Best showing doesn’t end in best result
If it seems Lawrence Baca is a bottomless pit, so be it.
Socorro’s hard-to-please head coach knows giving his team tough love now will better equip it to deal with the love-less atmosphere of March basketball. And it’s why Baca wasn’t extolling the Warriors’ virtues Saturday after an easy, if somewhat subdued, 67-42 win over West Las Vegas in the third-place game of the Hope Christian School Invitational.
The eight-ranked Warriors (7-8), in Baca’s estimation, still didn’t play a complete game, but they did more than enough to come out with a victory.
“If we get beat because they’re better than us, so be it,” Baca said. “If we get beat because we’re beating ourselves, or we’re not playing 32 minutes, or having lapses here and there, then that’s a different story.”
For the most part, Saturday’s game was one of the most nondescript of the year.
It was void of the theater that characterized the Warriors’ back-and-forth affair with sixth-ranked Taos. The Warriors didn’t do anything particularly wrong, but they also weren’t workmanlike in their precision.
Ibrahim Maiga quietly scored 16 points, as Socorro turned a nine-point halftime advantage into a 51-31 lead with 3:49 to go in the third quarter. Joseph Ortiz finished with 11 points to lead the Dons, but they never really threatened. The rest of the way was sweet sailing, with the Dons never getting closer than 12 points in the fourth.
Except assistant coach Louie Laborin wasn’t afraid to rock the boat afterward when addressing Socorro in the locker room.
He explained, in rather elevated tones, that SHS needs to develop a no-nonsense mentality and stop being sensitive to constructive criticism, especially as it prepares to embark on its District 3-3A season. Socorro opened with Hatch Valley at home on Tuesday.
Maiga, who was first to acknowledge he can do a better job of handling feedback, said, as a team, the Warriors have to get mentally strong.
“We just have to try to think, ‘Coach is just trying to help me out. I just gotta take it. He’s not trying to hurt me or bring me down. He’s just trying to make me a better player.’”
TAOS 58, SOCORRO 53:
The Socorro boys basketball team displayed it all, a confluence of confidence, competitiveness and chemistry forged in the crucible that is the Warriors’ season.
The undisciplined offensive ad-libbing that had previously haunted the Warriors? Gone, replaced by a willingness to be diligent in the half-court set, passing and reversing and skipping the ball around the perimeter.
The carelessness with the basketball? Guards Humberto Lucero and Michael Padilla used their bodies to insulate it in a protective cocoon.
The dispassionate defense the Warriors showed in a win over Zuni on Thursday night?
For more than eight minutes, Socorro’s defense was like the Bermuda Triangle — Taos’ hyperefficient scorer Max Suazo, who put up 13 points in the first half, found himself unable to navigate it and was scoreless in the third quarter.
And on Friday night, in the semifinals of the Hope Christian School Invitational, it still amounted to an inch-away-from-life-or-death loss to the sixth-ranked Tigers.
Forward Ibrahim Maiga converted a 3-point play to give the Warriors a 37-34 cushion with 1:44 left in the third quarter, a lead that would expand and contract, but one they’d hold until the 1:52 fourth-quarter mark. That’s when Amadeo Trujillo helped the Tigers snatch their first lead in nearly nine minutes.
The last 60 seconds came down to a photo finish, but despite a bunch of reasons to suggest to the contrary, this one wasn’t one that will make the Warriors’ end-of-the-year album. After losing to Taos, SHS is now 1-5 against Class 3A’s top 10, its only win coming against then-sixth-ranked Pojoaque Valley (now 10th).
With eight seconds left, Socorro’s Charles Contreras squared his body and eyed the rim, but his would-be equalizer got poked away by Francisco Martinez before it ever left his fingertips. The Warriors retained possession, but Maiga was squeezed into the furthest reaches of the far corner and fired up a 3-point shot that didn’t have the distance, as Martinez sprinted and retrieved the ball, was fouled and made the ensuing free throws to lock up the game for the Tigers.
Head coach Lawrence Baca said basketball is a results-based game, but even he couldn’t ignore Socorro’s body of work.
“That’s probably the best 30 minutes of basketball we played,” he said. “We’re right there. We showed signs that we’re capable of playing good basketball.”
The tide seemed prepared to swallow the Tigers.
Maiga completed another three-point play early in the fourth quarter, and a little later, Suazo was T’d up.
Contreras cashed the technical shots to give Socorro its biggest lead of the game at 45-39.
The T, though, seemed to add lumber to Suazo’s competitive fire. He drew his own 3-point play, and scored another crucial bucket, to pull the Tigers within two with 4:13 left.
Less than a minute later, a pair of Suazo free throws tied it at 50 apiece.
If Suazo led the Tigers back, Martinez made certain it wasn’t in vain.
His free throws with 15 seconds left put the Warriors in a position where only a trey tied the ball game. And that’s when Martinez came up with the game-saving play.
Baca drew up something for Contreras, who, to that point, was 3-of-3 from downtown.
But Martinez slammed the window shut, and the Warriors were forced to window-shop for a shot at the Huskies.
“This is where we start climbing that mountain,” Baca said. “When district comes, we climb, we climb, and hopefully we get to the state playoffs, and we’re right at the top of that hill.”
HOPE CHRISTIAN 85, TAOS 47:
The Huskies’ home is starting to resembling a hardware depot. After looking the part against Socorro, Taos was thoroughly manhandled in Saturday’s championship game. Hope (17-1) had five players in double figures to win its sixth straight tournament. The Huskies last lost their tournament in 2006 to Mora.
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