For Steers, what a difference a year makes?

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The Magdalena girls basketball team didn’t exactly start out on the Alice King Invitational’s guest list.

The invitational, traditionally attended by teams from higher classifications, added the Steers to last year’s field because of a late scratch.

“We kinda invited ourselves,” head coach Wally Sanchez said. “And we’re fortunate they just needed to fill the bracket.”

The Steers weren’t quite bracketbusters, opening with a 16-point loss to Class 5A’s then-No. 1 Cibola.

“They pretty much took us to school,” Sanchez said.

But that loss served as a springboard for the Steers, and taught them, as Sanchez put it, “The world belongs to the aggressor.” They went on to win their next two games, and now they’re guests of honor at the tournament. Back in Moriarity as the only Class 2A entrant, the Steers outlasted Bernalillo 49-41 to win the third-place game.

In the process, Sanchez learned something about his team that he didn’t previously know.

“They don’t break,” he said. “We played three tough teams. We had to fight for every win we got. A lot of teams will break when you have some lows, and this team didn’t. Other teams would break and it’d snowball, but this team keeps its composure.”

To be sure, Magdalena didn’t face any shortage of pressure.

It was involved in three razor-close games, including one against reigning Class 3A champion Santa Fe Indian. In that contest, the Steers overcame a heap of errors to pull within five points. But Sanchez said every time his team looked to inch closer, it stymied itself with turnovers.

“We played them pretty tough,” Sanchez said. “The downer is, quite honestly, we felt we should have beat them.”

How would they respond?

Authoritatively.

The Steers got 15 points from Alicia Armijo and another 12 from Keanda Chavez on the way to an eight-point win over the Class 4A Spartans. Armijo and Chavez averaged 14 and 13.3 points, respectively, for the tournament. Kameron Armstrong had a single point in a 56-50 first-round win over Alamagordo, but cobbled together two respectable performances, leading the Steers with 10 points against Santa Fe Indian.

Over the years, Sanchez has customarily scheduled a heavy docket of higher-class teams. By the time the season rolls, there’s no class shock because Sanchez has typically put his squads to the fire by entering them in demanding summer tournaments in Hobbs, Roswell, Valencia, Belen and Valley.

If there’s one thing the Steers haven’t been able to as much as Sanchez would like, it’s practice.

Yes, practice.

“I hope we can get four good practices without a carnival or Halloween or a snow day,” he said. “There’s still the greenness of our group playing together. But the future looks good for this season.”

ATRISCO HERITAGE 56, SOCORRO 50:

For three quarters, the Socorro girls were a functional basketball team.

But in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Atrisco Heritage, the Warriors malfunctioned — this time, poor free-throw shooting eschewing any chance the Warriors had at snagging their first win of the season. They fell 56-50, after entering halftime with a nine-point lead that later swelled to double-digits.

“We gave one away,” head coach Marleen Greenwood said. “There wasn’t a whole lot we could say. Being a team mostly composed of guards, we have to be able to make the free throws and cut down on the turnovers, and those are the two things that cost us the game.”

The Warriors (0-5) were eyesores from the charity stripe, shooting 2-of-10 in the fourth quarter alone. Greenwood said it was as if her players — who showed poise and proficiency at the free-throw line for the first three quarters — forgot how to shoot freebies.

“A lot of times, I think it’s the focus,” she said. “And we spend a lot of time going over what they call ‘step shooting.’ There’s no reason why (that should happen). It’s not like someone’s in your face. It’s all about focus and fundamentals.”

Fundamentally, the Warriors didn’t help themselves defensively, as Atrisco Heritage used three third-quarter 3-pointers to trim into Socorro’s lead. What was once a nine-point lead evaporated, turning into a three-point deficit by the end of the third.

“We’ve been right there in a lot of them,” Greenwood said. “We can’t just give those ones up.”

Dezirae Armijo led the way with 16 points, followed by Amanda Saenz who had 11.

Socorro will have to live with its giveaway loss for awhile. Tuesday’s game against West Las Vegas was canceled, and the Warriors don’t take the court till Thursday against Pojoaque Valley. Having previously scrimmaged the Elkettes, the Warriors, Greenwood said, must contain point guard Cheyenne Cordova in order to have a chance.

“They’re very similar to us in the sense that they’re guard-loaded,” she said. “If we can slow her down, it’s gonna be a close game.”

Boys – MAGDALENA 57, CARRIZOZO 17:

The Michelin Man couldn’t have prevented this blowout.

Jory Mirabal used his fifth different starting lineup to get the Magdalena boys basketball team its sixth consecutive win.

The Steers, off to their best start in eight years, absolutely waxed Carrizozo — the same team that lost to McCurdy by five in the Steer Stampede — allowing it to score only five points in the first half on the way to a 57-17 win.

Mirabal didn’t exactly wax poetic about the Steers’ win, which helped them surpass their previous best start — a 4-0 record in 2005-06. That year the Steers lost to Logan in the Class 1A state semifinals on a gut-wrenching tip-in at the buzzer.

Could these Steers be better than those Steers? Yes, Mirabal said, plainly.

“What’s exciting for us is we haven’t even scratched the surface of playing our best basketball,” he said.

On Friday night, they didn’t need to. The Grizzlies never came up for air, getting suffocated early by the Steers’ varying defensive looks. Full-court trap, man-to-man — whatever the Steers threw at them, it was just grisly for Carrizozo.

The Steers shot 59.5 percent (22-of-37) and a silk-singing 7-of-11 from 3-point land. Dre Montoya led all scorers with 15 points, going 3-of-4 from downtown. Rio Chadde chipped in 13.

And the Steers literally chipped away the rest of the game.

Mirabal decided to slow, er, kill the pace in the second half. To open the third quarter, the Steers ran three minutes off the clock before attempting a shot. Ditto for the fourth quarter.

So far, the Steers have won their games by an average margin of 25.2 points.

Admittedly, Mirabal said he is anxious to see how his team responds in a close contest, but he isn’t hitting the panic button since the Steers have yet been involved in one. He said he has used game time to simulate scenarios the Steers will face later.

“I don’t know that I’d use the word ‘worried’,” Mirabal said. “We’re not just out their running around, running up scores.”

 


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