Steers experienced atrophy before snagging a trophy

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If Don Haskins paved "Glory Road," Jory Mirabal sauntered down "Gory Road."

Haskins immortalized himself as a racial pioneer, and an NCAA basketball icon, when he gave the nod to an all-black starting lineup in Western Texas College's monumental upset over the Adolph Rupp-coached Kentucky Wildcats during the 1966 national title game. More recently, Mirabal was rudely made aware of his own mortality.

Last year, the Magdalena boys head basketball coach wasn't living a movie — unless it was a horror flick. The Steers slogged through their first losing season under Mirabal's watch, getting royally shellacked 91-27 by Cliff in their season opener. In that contest, the Steers, ruffled by the Cowboys' full-court pressure, took a quarter and a half to successfully navigate the ball past midcourt.

"And they were nice to us," Mirabal said. "Last year was a humility check for me. I think a lot of times, as coaches, we get wrapped up in how those losses look."

Transfer Rio Chadde remembers looking on that game per NMAA transfer rules. Helpless to the onslaught, he watched as his teammates endured an embarrassing loss.

"I just remember sitting there thinking, 'I could have done something to help them,'" he said. "It was really hard to watch."

But it was something the Steers needed to see. It was venturing down that apocalyptic road, and stumbling over the accompanying road blocks, that enabled them to clinch the Steer Stampede on Saturday over McCurdy, 44-31.

Magdalena, content shooting, and clanking, a barrage of 3-pointers — five of its first six shots came from beyond the arc — overcame an early seven-point deficit. Chadde scored eight straight points to capsize the lead in the hosts' favor.

The Steers went on a 9-0 streak to end the half, as center Miles Parscal capped it with a putback before the buzzer sounded. Chadde finished with 17 points, six rebounds and four blocks.

"That's the Rio we expect to see," Mirabal said. "When we first got him, he was kind of a gentle giant. When he decides to, he's a guy who can change the game."

With Chadde and Parscal patrolling the paint, the Bobcats never threatened. They had only two third-quarter field goals and took till the 4:41 mark to get their first. Carlos Herrera's bucket with 2:51 remaining in the third brought the Bobcats within 29-24, but Chadde cleaned up after Kendall Apachito's miss, upping the ante to 41-34, from which the Bobcats never drew closer.

McCurdy couldn't track down Magdalena, as it converted six of its eight free-throw attempts in the last 1:45 to preserve a win, the Steers' third tournament title in the last five years.

If Mirabal had anything critical to say about his team, it's that it was too trigger-happy in launching up treys.

"I just think they were amped up for it being a championship game," he said. "We played with a little bit more emotion. We were taking good shots rather than great shots. Once we settled down, I thought we were fine."

And calm.

Like they did all tournament, the Steers faced a tremendous amount of nonstop, in-your-face ball pressure, handling it with considerable aplomb. Saturday was a capstone performance emblematic of how far the once-youthful Steers have come. They had only eight turnovers and proved they can adjust playing styles on the fly. Fond of that floor-it-to-score-it-type basketball, the Steers in two tournament wins over Alamo Navajo and Native American Community Academy scored 65 and 50 points respectively.

Yet, the baskets were particularly hard to come by Saturday. The fast-paced affair lent itself to high scoring, but both teams were scattershot from the field. No one could accuse Magdalena of being iron deficient, but it ended up shooting a respectable 42.8 percent (18-of-42).

Mirabal said these early-season games aren't unveiling more about the Steers, so much as they're confirming what he already suspected.

"It showed us that some of the growing up that we had to do last year, it's paying off this year," he said. "We had to overcome a deficit, and we never panicked. We've come a long ways."

It helps having defensive engine Daniel Hand and post John Woods back. Hand tore his ACL last year, and Woods was lost halfway through the season to a foot injury.

Chadde said the Steers have grown psychologically as much as physically and no longer fray when facing frazzling scenarios.

"Our guards are bigger, stronger, faster and a year older," he said. "They have that confidence, and we trust each other more than last year."

First, they had to take a detour and hoof the road less traveled.

"It was my most rewarding (season) 'cause I felt as we grew, we matured," Mirabal said. "I felt like, as a coach, I put in the most work I've ever put in. To their credit, most teams would have folded up tents, but they didn't."

So now they're in the driver's seat, and when the road forks, they'll know which way to go.

ROBERTSON 76, SOCORRO 45: The Socorro High School girls basketball team doesn't exactly have 99 problems, but it has problems galore.

Putting the height issue aside, the Warriors are winless four games into the season and coming off Saturday's vicious 76-45 setback to Robertson inside Warriors gym. What was a four-point game entering the fourth quarter quickly turned into a romp.

Principally, head coach Marleen Greenwood said, Socorro must avoid the second-half skids that have consistently led to its unraveling.

"We just never got on track offensively in the second half," she said about the Robertson game.

So far, Greenwood has used four different starting lineups, none of which have manufactured points in the third quarter, when teams have typically made their pushes. The Warriors have had four different leading scorers. Against Ruidoso, it was JeriAna Contreras, who hit six 3-pointers on the way to 21 points. As much as it points to balance, and having capable threats across the board, it also highlights the Warriors' glaring inconsistency.

Speaking of consistency, because of the recent snowstorm that blanketed much of Socorro County, the Warriors haven't had any consistency in their schedule.

Because school was canceled the last two days, the girls team hasn't practiced. Greenwood said SHS is looking to get back on the hardwood Wednesday as it preps for its upcoming game with Atrisco Heritage. Tuesday's game against Estancia was postponed and will be made up at a later date.

What that cancellation means — if the game can't be rescheduled this week — is Socorro won't have a home game for a month. It's on the road Saturday, followed by an appearance in West Las Vegas, before back-to-back trips to Pojoaque — once to face the Elkettes and another to play in the Ben Lujan tournament that runs Dec. 19-21.

Will the extended trip be a much-needed vacation to relax the Warriors' burdens? Or will those problems be waiting for them when they get home?


-- Email the author at iavilucea@dchieftain.com.