Rio Rancho downs Cats for second time

CNJ staff

RIO RANCHO — For the second time this season, No. 1-ranked Rio Rancho beat Clovis in a high-scoring affair.

Wildcats coach J.D. Isler saw positives in Friday’s 97-91 loss.

“I told (his players) we might see them again in the state tournament,” Isler said. “They never quit, they never got rattled, and these kids have just tremendous character.”

Rio Rancho (15-1) beat Clovis 97-95 in overtime in December’s Milk Cow Classic at Rock Staubus Gym.

Plagued by first-half, the Wildcats (15-2) trailed the whole way, Rio Rancho ensure the win by hitting 25-of-30 free throws.

Ranked fourth in the Albuquerque Journal’s Class 5A poll, Clovis makes a quick turnaround with a 2:30 p.m. clash today against ninth-ranked Sandia.

Senior forward Daniel Steffensen poured in a team-high 22 points and senior forward Noah Wolfe added 19 as Rio Rancho’s starting five scored in double figures.

Junior Bryce Hill nailed six 3-pointers en route to 22 points for the Cats, while senior Cody Thornsbury also netted 22 points with four 3-pointers. As a team, the Cats hit 13 3-pointers.

“He attacked the defense a lot better tonight,” Isler said of Thornsbury.

The Cats battled back from a 17-point deficit early in the third quarter, closing the gap to 64-59 by the end of the period.

They got within a point twice early in the final period on 3-pointers by Thornsbury and Hill. Thornsbury buried another 3-pointer to bring the Cats to within 86-84.

Rio Rancho responded with a 6-0 run — all from the free-throw line — to regain control.

After a back-and-forth start to the game, the Rams went on an 11-3 run as the Cats made errant passes leading to fast-break layups.

“We have to do better defensively,” Isler said. “They’re a good offensive team, and they’ve got a lot of weapons.”