A long time coming

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Charles Contreras had the ball on the wing, pump-faked his defender and slashed past him, only to get swallowed by a tide of converging defenders.

Caught in the air, Contreras desperately dumped the ball to Socorro point guard Humberto Lucero, who spotted up behind the top of the key.

Splash!

Lucero's 3-pointer, taken at the 2:23 third-quarter mark, bailed out Contreras Wall Street-style, robbed the Bears of any momentum and broke a 34-all gridlock Wednesday night inside Warriors gym.

After that trey, SHS outscored the Bears 27-12 over the next 10 minutes on the way to a 64-46 win in its oft-delayed season opener.

"It was a backbreaker," Warriors' head coach Lawrence Baca said of Lucero's shot.

Early on, the teams played at break-neck pace, as the Warriors surged to a 13-2 lead in the first quarter. The Bears then spent the next 16 minutes slowly slicing into the Warriors' lead. Christopher Dawes had 10 points during that stretch, as Wingate crept back, tying the game twice, but never pulling ahead.

Moments before Lucero's go-ahead bomb, Randall Price evened the score with a 3-ball of his own. Then came Lucero's dagger, which he converted after missing his first four 3-point attempts.

Wingate's Shawn Hosteen drained a bucket to pull the Bears back within a point, but the Warriors went on a 7-0 mini-burst. Center Sam Hale kissed the ball off the glass, but forward Ibrahim Maiga had the Bears' kiss of death.

With guard Zeb Esquivel inbounding, Maiga maneuvered through a matrix of screens and found himself all alone under the basket. Esquivel lobbed a pretty ball toward the hoop, and Maiga did the rest, finishing a stylish alley-oop. Esquivel then stripped the ball from a Wingate player and drove coast-to-coast for an uncontested layup, upping the score to 43-36.

"I pretty much gambled, but it paid off," said Esquivel, who scored a team-high 13 points to go along with some sneaky steals.

Baca couldn't say enough about his sophomore guard, who steadied the Warriors when things got hectic.

"Zeb's just a tough athlete," Baca said. "He doesn't back down from nobody. He's only gonna get better, and that's the scary part."

The Warriors had five players in double figures. Maiga, whose early pressing led to a handful of turnovers, finished with 10 points, as did Lucero — none bigger than that 3-pointer. Despite foul trouble, Contreras finished with 12 points.

For a good portion of the contest, the Warriors were bothered by Wingate's full-court trap. On edge, Baca strolled up and down the sideline, at times resting his head on his hand. No more than three minutes into the game, Baca brought in Michael Padilla for extra ball-handling. Right away, Baca hit a pull-up jumper followed by a trey that made it 11-2. As the game went on, Lucero calmed down and started looking like a point guard.

"We just went on a run because we finally started relaxing," Lucero said. "We've been waiting for (this game) for awhile. We were anxious to get first-game jitters out of the way."

Socorro's season was slated to start Dec. 2, but Wingate got snowed in, so the game was put on hold. Then the Warriors were set to travel to Tularosa on Dec. 6, but that contest was canceled after a winter storm rocked Socorro County, making travel impossible. That game is rescheduled for Jan. 23. In the meantime, the Warriors begin a four-game stretch with three at home, starting Saturday against Pojoaque Valley.

All in all, Baca said he likes the product he sees.

"It was gonna be our first game one night," he said. "I think we can be as good as the effort we put forth. If we do that, we can be special."


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