Magdalena girls power by the Bears

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In stark contrast to its first two Steer Stampede games on Thursday and Friday, the Magdalena girls basketball team needed every one of the 32 minutes it took to put away Hatch Valley on Saturday night in the tournament final.

But the Steers' defense proved to be stout yet again as it held the Bears to just 30 points en route to a 37-30 victory.

Mag remained unbeaten on the year and moved to 4-0, while Hatch fell to 4-2.

So far this season, Magdalena has allowed just one opponent in Tularosa to break the 31-point barrier. The Wildcats scored 39, and overall the Steers have outscored their four opponents a combined 245 to 119.

But after coming off two overwhelming wins over Evangel Christian and Native American Community Academy during the tourney's first two rounds, Mag struggled to find its offensive rhythm against an experienced Bears team.

At halftime, the score was 22-13 in favor of the Steers, their lowest first-half total this season, and no Steers player achieved double-digit points in the game.

But Magdalena is a high-intensity team that seems to far out-hustle opposing squads, and their full-court press can give the opposition absolute fits before they even reach midcourt.

They may not have played their cleanest game offensively, but the Steers proved they can rely on their defense to carry them if they have to.

"We didn't play very well," Mag head coach Wally Sanchez said. "I know it. They know it. When it was all over and done with, it was our defense that pulled us out tonight. That's not a bad thing. You're going to have bad nights on offense. When you can play as poorly as we did on offense and still pull out a win, that tells you something."

After Magdalena jumped out to the early nine-point, the Bears made a small run in the third quarter to cut the lead to 27-22 and steal the momentum. Hatch's senior guards Daisy Varela and Cassandra Hinojos used their speed and experience to break the Magdalena press, but the visiting team couldn't convert that success into points.

Nicha Montoya hit two big free throws with three minutes and 48 seconds left in the game to extend the Steers lead to 33-25. Then 40 seconds later, Ashley Tafoya fed Kadie Kiehne a pretty ball in the paint for a layup that all but put the low-scoring contest away.

Montoya led Mag in scoring with eight points and Tafoya scored seven. Shia Mexicano added six points while Kiehne and Clarissa Gomez both chipped in four.

Tori Carson led the way for the Bears with nine points.

The game likely served as a confidence-building exercise for a team that basically put its previous two games away before halftime, and three of their four victories have come against Class 2A teams. Sanchez said he likes playing bigger schools to help prepare his team for district competition. Getting a hard-fought win against a team in Hatch that has also been blowing teams out this season only gives the young Steers added incentive to continually improve.

"They just love athletics. They just love to play," Sanchez said of his squad. "They got in a lot of foul trouble and it was a physical game. I was proud of the way they kept their composure. There is so much room for improvement, we won't have a problem."

The Magdalena girls return to the hardcourt on Dec. 20 when they travel to Hatch for a rematch with the Bears.