Socorro High School’s boys basketball team did a lot of soul searching after losing a home game to Las Vegas Robertson on Jan. 7. Tonight, when the Warriors face the Cardinals in a Class 3A state playoff game, we’ll find out if they found it.
Socorro (15-13), seeded 11th in the tournament, tip off against the fifth-seeded Robertson (18-9) in Las Vegas at 6 p.m.
In their first meeting in Socorro, the Warriors held a 31-29 advantage headed into the fourth quarter. The Cardinals overtook them, but it was still a one-point game with 2:11 left to play. From that point on, Robertson out-scored Socorro 12-6 and registered a 50-43 victory.
“It’s pretty devastating, because we know we’re a good team,” senior Ibrahim Maiga said after what was then the Warriors’ fourth straight loss.
SHS head coach Lawrence Baca said he had a heart-to-heart talk with his team in the locker room after that game.
“It’s too early to check it in,” he told them. “This isn’t make-or-break. This is a good measuring stick for us.”
Socorro got slaughtered in their next game to Sandia Prep to extend the losing streak to five. But Baca pointed out those losses were all to good teams.
“We weren’t playing our best basketball at the time, but those games prepared us for this time of year,” he said.
Since that losing streak ended, the Warriors have gone 11-5.
“We’re playing better basketball now,” Baca said. “If we can go out and play the kind of basketball we’re capable of playing, we’re capable of beating anyone in the state.”
That wasn’t true early in the season. The Warriors couldn’t seem to put it together.
“During the course of the season, it always seemed we played one good half of basketball, but not the full 32 minutes. I think we’re doing that now,” he said.
The only team Socorro couldn’t beat during district play was Silver, and they gave the Colts all they could handle in the district championship game, losing 50-49 at Silver.
“We played the full 32 minutes with good intensity, and we were executing and taking care of the ball a lot more,” he said.
Aside from their head-to-head match up, Socorro and Robertson have played five common opponents. The Cardinals were 4-4 against those teams, while the Warriors went 3-3.
They each beat Estancia by comfortable margins — Robertson by 50 points and Socorro by 27. They both lost to Atrisco Heritage — Robertson by 10 and Socorro by 18 — and St. Michael’s — the Cardinals by 10 and the Warriors by eight. Each team played West Las Vegas twice and handled them easily. Robertson beat the Dons by 22 and 23 points, while Socorro won the first meeting by 25 points and got them by 16 the second time around. The Cardinals split wins with Taos, winning by 10 at home and losing by nine on the road, during the district season. They then lost to the Tigers, 65-63, in the 2-3A championship game. Socorro lost its home game with Taos by a five-point margin.
Robertson is not an especially big team. It’s tallest player, Justin Bustos, is 6 foot, 3 inches, and actually plays guard.
Bustos had been sidelined with a knee injury for much of the season but rejoined the team late in the season.
Coach Baca said earlier this week that he planned to assign sophomore Zeb Esquivel to Bustos.
“Zeb can keep up with him all day long,” Baca said.
The Cardinals have just two other players over 6 feet — juniors Joseph Mascañares and Ryan Tafoya.
Socorro has five players over 6 feet, but rely mostly on 6-foot-3-inch Sam Hale for rebounding, with Nathaniel Fenby spelling him and 6-4 sophomore Ethan Smith pitching in at post along with 6-foot senior Bryce Sandoval.
Baca said Hale will be a key player. He was almost unstoppable in the last game against Silver.
“Sam’s been playing huge for us,” Baca said. “If we can get that from him (against Robertson), we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Socorro will count on their seniors to come through, as they try to avoid playing their last high school basketball game on Saturday. The team is led by Maiga, whose athleticism earned him a scholarship at Eastern New Mexico University to play football. Charles Contreras is another force to be reckoned with, as is point guard Herberto Lucero. Sophomore guard Michael Padilla also takes on a share of ball handling duties.
In order for them to beat Robertson this time, Baca said Socorro will have to control the tempo of the game, take care of the ball and be patient on offense.
“We match up very well with them athletically,” he said. “Every possession is going to be key. We have to make sure we take the best available shot.”
While the loss to Robertson may have been a low point in the season, Baca said his team is now playing with a lot of confidence.
“We believe we can play with anybody. As long as we take care of business, we have a chance to win,” he said.
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