Socorro hangs with defending champs

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Socorro played host to defending Class 2A champs Tularosa on Dec. 11, and although the Wildcats went home with a 46-41 victory, the Warriors can hang their hats on an impressive performance.

“That was a very talented team, and that was one of or best games overall this year so far,” Socorro head coach Lawrence Baca said. “It was a big improvement.”

Tularosa improved to 1-0, while Socorro fell to 0-5.

After a lopsided loss to Belen earlier this season, Baca talked about trying to make his team play more patiently, and they did exactly that on Tuesday night. The Tularosa offense is consistent and methodical, but the Warriors played solid zone defense in the first half to take the Wildcats out of rhythm.

Socorro held a team that averaged 60 points per game last season to just 12 points in the first quarter. Michael Padilla even gave the Warriors a 13-12 lead at the end of the first when he nailed the first of his five 3-pointers on the night.

Padilla had eight points in the first half and Ethan Smith recorded six, and the home team was down just 27-23 heading into halftime.

“All around, defensively, offensively, I was real happy with the improvement side of things,” Baca said.

But the Wildcats are still defending state champions, and they came out far more aggressive in the third quarter. They caused several Warriors turnovers and built a 42-31 lead going into the fourth.

Then Socorro flipped the script on Tularosa.

The Warriors slowly but surely cut into the Wildcats’ lead, and when Adam Paz stole the ball and converted a layup with 45 seconds left in the game he cut the Tularosa lead to 44-41. At that point Socorro had gone on a 10-2 run. The Wildcats were out of sorts in the fourth, and they committed several turnovers and missed four straight free throws that could have basically sealed the game.

But the Warriors just couldn’t convert the big shot they were looking for. Jim Coleman, a New Mexico State commit, hit two free throws in the final seconds to put the game out of reach.

A loss is still a loss, especially for a team still looking for its first win of the season, but Socorro showed discernible improvement against a very good basketball team.

“Everybody’s doing a better job, and that’s by far the best game we’ve played,” Baca said. “Obviously there are still some things we’ve got to fix. Obviously there is still room for improvement, and we’re going to get better. That was a quality ball team we played. We held our own. We had our chances.”

Padilla led all scorers with 19 points, while Smith and Paz both scored seven. Coleman led the way for Tularosa with 14 points.

Socorro will play host to Hatch Valley on Dec. 18.