Warriors grab first win of the season

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The first month of the season may have been a tough one for the Warriors basketball team, but the mantra so far has basically been gain experience, get better.

In nearly knocking off powerhouse Tularosa on Dec. 11, it was obvious Lawrence Baca’s team was improving. On Tuesday evening, the Warriors continued their climb up the proverbial basketball mountain by earning an 88-43 victory over Hatch Valley (1-6), their first win of the season.

“It feels good. We needed it confidence wise,” Baca said.

The 1-5 Warriors will play in the Pojoaque tournament this weekend before they head into the holiday break.

Socorro basically dominated the contest from its onset, jumping out to a 24-8 first-quarter lead. It shot the ball efficiently, limited turnovers and played solid post defense. Adam Paz and Matthew Jojola both had seven points in the first quarter, and Michael Padilla nailed two from behind the arc for six points.

The game was Jojola’s first this season after coming off an injury, and his presence was immediately felt. The versatile 6-foot-2 junior can play in the backcourt as well as the frontcourt, and his presence gives the Warriors a dimension they hadn’t had this season.

“Having Matt back just does a lot for our team,” Baca said. “Not only does it add depth to our team, it allows us to do so many different things defensively and offensively. He’s a great basketball player and he’s going to do a lot of good things for us.”

Socorro built a 46-25 halftime lead, and by the end of the third quarter it was in complete control with a 69-34 advantage. The visiting Bears could only muster double-digit points in the second quarter when they scored 17.

For Baca and his squad, the win finally gives them something to show for staying the course and sticking to the head ball coach’s game plan. Baca has preached playing patiently all season long, and the Warriors practiced exactly that Tuesday. They handled the ball well, ran their offense smoothly and consistently broke the Hatch press without turning the ball over. The efficient play started last week during the Tularosa game and it definitely carried over into the Hatch game.

“I thought Tularosa was a big step in the right direction, and tonight was even a bigger step,” Baca said. “We’re heading in the right direction. These kids know they can play basketball. It’s just a matter of being patient and relaxing and doing what we’re supposed to do.”

It was indeed an all-around team effort for Socorro, but perhaps some even better news was the apparent emergence of Paz as a reliable ball-handler and legitimate scoring threat. The senior scored 21 points and took good care of the ball.

“Adam did a heck of a job for us tonight. He’s one of those kids that has shown a big improvement,” Baca said. “(He’s) a great athlete. He’s so dang athletic and quick, he can get up and down the court with the best of them.”

Paz’s raised level of play also takes some pressure off of Padilla, who so far this season had been handling the ball a lot of the time while still trying to put points on the board. The senior hit four 3-pointers and led all scorers with 24 points.

“I feel a lot calmer now,” he said. “I think I panicked a little bit.”

Ethan Smith, Joe Armijo and Jojola all finished with 11 points, and Brandon Rosales added six.

Adrian Grajeda led the Bears with 15 points.

While the win was well-deserved, as well as much-needed, the Ben Lujan Tournament Socorro is playing in this weekend probably didn’t give them much time to reflect on it. Teams like Laguna, Taos, Raton and Pojoaque will give the Warriors a chance to see precisely what they’ve improved upon so far, and probably what they’ll need to improve on in the future.

“The Pojoaque tournament is a great tournament,” Baca said. “Those northern teams like to get up and down the court. I think right now, we’re playing better and we’ll be ready.”