Estancia spoils season-opener

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The Warriors basketball team took the court for its first game of the 2012-13 season against Estancia on Thursday, and the visiting Bears did not prove to be kind guests as they beat Socorro 61-54.

Estancia (1-1) opened up a 17-point third-quarter lead and then played through several comeback attempts by the Warriors to record its first win of the season. Socorro fell to Estancia 0-1.

The inexperienced Warriors had trouble finding their rhythm offensively in the first half, and a slew of Socorro turnovers turned into easy buckets for the Bears.

“Right now, we don’t have much varsity basketball experience,” Warriors head coach Lawrence Baca said. “I only have a couple seniors. We’re not young age-wise or grade-wise, but varsity experience-wise, we have Michael Padilla, who probably averaged three minutes (per game) last year.”

Even though both squads had issues finding the bottom of the net in the first quarter, Estancia worked its way to a 14-10 first-quarter advantage. Socorro played well defensively and junior post Ethan Smith scored six points in the opening eight minutes, but the home team notched at least six turnovers and had trouble rebounding effectively.

In the second quarter the Bears opened up a 21-12 lead coming off of a bank-shot 3-pointer by Joe Luna. Then Herman Ortiz scored a 3-point play the old fashioned way, and stole the ensuing in-bounds pass to give Estancia a 29-18 lead with fewer than two minutes left in the half. Cesar Quintana sank a turnaround hook shot at the buzzer to give the Bears a 33-20 halftime advantage.

Momentum was undoubtedly on Estancia’s side in the opening minutes of the third quarter, also when they scored the first four points, and Socorro found itself in a 37-20 hole.

But this is Socorro, and Warriors don’t seem to understand the word “quit.” Fueled by four straight Padilla free throws, Socorro went on a 10-2 run and pulled to within 39-30 with 3 minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the third. Then Brandon Lopez rattled in two foul shots of his own, and with 1:20 left in the quarter the Warriors were down only 40-35.

But as they did for much of the night, the Bears had an answer, and Ortiz and Gabe Sedillo both converted and-1 plays over the next several minutes to help push the Estancia lead to 50-39 with just a little more than six minutes left in the game.

As they also did for most of the evening though, when the Bears pushed, the Warriors pushed right back.

Derrick Chavez came up with a huge and timely steal for his team, and Brendon Rosales was fouled on a successful put-back. He nailed the foul shot, and just like that the score was 52-46. The Warriors cut their deficit to six points again at 58-52, but with just 28 seconds left in the game, it was a tad bit too little and a tiny bit too late for Socorro.

Estancia hit three free throws in the final seconds to put the kibosh on the Warriors’ season-opener. Socorro fought hard, but just couldn’t get the big bucket it was looking for over the final 90 seconds.

And while there’s no such thing as a “good loss,” Socorro should be able to take a great deal of pride away from Thursday’s game.

“I don’t have quitters,” Baca said.

“I have a great group of kids. It was our first game of the season, so I expected a lot of mistakes. Some of the mistakes we made I thought are fixable. You can’t start off that slow. I don’t care who you’re playing. It’s tough to come back from 17 down.

“But there was no quit in them.”

Positives and goodwill aside though, the Warriors will have a lot to shore up in the backcourt before this afternoon’s game at Belen. They were constantly plagued by ball handling turnovers in their opener, and the Eagles’ experience at the guard position will cause them fits unless they correct some avoidable mistakes.

“It’s a work in progress. Obviously we have to get stronger at guard because we had (a lot) of turnovers tonight,” Baca said. “That many turnovers, we’re not going to give ourselves a chance to win any ball game.

“If we can fix our guard play and clean that up a little bit, I think we’ll be okay. As we go, our goal is to get better every game and get the experience they need.”

Padilla finished the game with 15 points and Smith had 12. Rosales scored eight points, Dylan Gallegos recorded six points and Chavez scored five. Sedillo and Ortiz led the Bears with 15 points each.

The Warriors and Eagles tip-off this afternoon with the junior varsity teams playing a 1 p.m., and the varsity soon after.