It’s not exactly “Hoosiers” — the story of farm boys from Hickory, Ind., knocking off the more accomplished kids from the big city of South Bend to win the state basketball championship in what is considered one of the greatest sports movies of all time.
This is more like “Moosiers” — the Magdalena Steers, a team made up of kids from a cow town and off the Alamo Indian reservation taking on the polished preparatory school in New Mexico’s state capital.
And it’s not the state championship game; it’s the first round of the Class 2A state playoffs. But it’s a matinee match up worthy of an audience. The drama unfolds beginning at 3 p.m. today (Saturday) at Santa Fe Prep.
“I hadn’t really thought of it that way,” said Magdalena head coach Jory Mirabal when presented with the analogy, “but I’m sure their kids’ life experiences are a lot different from ours.”
Like Hickory coach Norman Dale, Mirabal says despite different backgrounds, the two teams still play the same game. The courts they’ve played on all year are the same size; the rims at the Prep gym are 10 feet off the ground, just like they are in Magdalena. And though the 11th-seeded Steers (18-10) are decided underdogs against the fifth-seeded Blue Griffins (22-6), Prep presents a challenge no different from others his team has faced this season.
“They’re a quality opponent, but we’ve played a lot of tough competition all year,” said Mirabal, whose team is in the same district as top-seeded Laguna Acoma.
Santa Fe Prep coach Dennis Casados said he doesn’t know much about Magdalena, but he expects them to be a tough opponent.
“I know they wouldn’t be where they are if they didn’t have a solid team,” he said. “I know they have some good size and good outside shooting, but that sounds like everybody else we’ve played this year.”
Casados said he’s not the kind of coach that dissects game film or does a lot of scouting.
“We try to prepare the way we have for the last 28 games and concentrate about what we do,” he said. “We stick to old school fundamentals, and we work on that continuously in practice.”
It’s not any different from the approach Mirabal takes.
“They play disciplined basketball, just like we do,” he said, adding that the Steers need to worry about playing their own game. “We can’t be our own worst enemy. We have to make sure we have quality possessions, play good defense, rebound and not let them have second- and third-chance shots.”
The teams aren’t that much different on paper. Both have some big kids at the post and athletic guards.
Prep’s 6-foot-4-inch Daniel Van Essen averages 15 points and eight rebounds per game. They’ve also got a 6-6 kid, Tex Ritter, and 6-2 forward William Lenfestey, who grabs eight boards a game and can score.
Magdalena counters with 6-6 Rio Chadde and 6-5 Miles Parscal, who have both been dominant at times this season.
The Griffins are led by senior guard Joey Lambert, who averages 14 points per game. He can shoot the 3 and you don’t want to put him on the foul line, where he’s 82 percent accurate.
The Steers are a well rounded team, with the likes of Kendall and Duster Apachito, Dylan and Tyler Julian, and seniors Clifton Guerro and Daniel Hand, to name a few.
And if they need a Jimmy Chitwood to make a game-winning shot from the outside, freshman Dre Montoya has been one of the most lethal 3-point shooters in the state this season.
“If we have an advantage, we have a 6-5 and a 6-6 and both are true posts they’ll have to come out and block,” Mirabal said. “And even though they have some good guards, we can go 10 deep.”
But based on what’s happened this season, Prep has the overall advantage. They’ve lost just twice this year on their home floor, and both were close games to quality opponents – third-seeded Mora and fourth-seeded Pecos. They avenged the loss to Pecos, beating the Panthers at their place to win their first district championship in 17 years.
“For them to come out of that district, they must be good,” said Mirabal, pointing out that three teams from District 2-2A occupy spots among the top five seeds.
Meanwhile, Magdalena is 7-9 away from home this season and placed third in District 3-2A behind Laguna and eighth-seeded Bosque School.
But this is the state tournament, where anything can happen.
“We have all the tools to win in the state tournament,” Mirabal said. “And I will say this about this year’s team: in all the years I’ve coached, I’ve never had a team improve as much over a two-year span — both in terms of skills and everybody being on the same page. We’ve had some struggles with that in past years. This year we feel more like a family.”
Like the Hickory Huskers did in the movie, the Magdalena Steers have come together as a team and each player shares the single goal of becoming state champions. To do so, they’ll first have to get by the kids from the private school in the big city.
“We believe we can — all of us do,” said Chadde.
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