Dons sink Warriors at Hope Invite

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The Warriors basketball team is undoubtedly young, at least in regard to varsity court time, and it definitely has some talent.

In certain intervals this season, Socorro has shown it has the ability to understand and execute a reliable half court offense, and when it pieces together the game at its base, it can put points on the scoreboard.

Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: Dylan Gallegos shoots over the top of the West Las Vegas defense on Thursday at the Hope Invitational in Albuquerque. Gallegos scored eight points for Socorro in a 77-60 loss to the Dons.

At other times it has shown its inexperience, frustrating and even bewildering the Warriors faithful to a point. At the end of the conversation what’s really holding this team back is but one thing: those dang turnovers.

Some may call this type of team “streaky,” but in reality Socorro’s issue protecting the ball is its only glaring issue. When they hold on to the rock, settle down and execute like they’ve proven they can, the Warriors can compete. When they let the game speed up too much, they have trouble, and that’s precisely what happened in a 77-60 loss to West Las Vegas on Thursday night at the Hope Invitational in Albuquerque.

“This is what it’s been all year. It’s a spurt here and there, then we get out of control and things get out of hand,” head coach Lawrence Baca said.

It was indeed a game of spurts and runs, and the Dons went on two substantial runs during the contest. It was the second that did Socorro in.

Socorro looked solid early on, going on a quick 8-0 run after being down 7-4 to take a 12-7 lead. West Las Vegas heated up early from long range, hitting three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes. The Dons led 19-17 after the first quarter.

In the second, West Las Vegas leveled up the game’s intensity and scored 11 unanswered points to take a 30-17 lead with 4 minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the half. Brendon Rosales hit one of two technical free throws to stop the bleeding, and Adam Paz chipped in five second-quarter points to keep Socorro within striking distance. At halftime the Warriors were down just 35-27.

In the opening minutes of the third, Socorro came out swinging and scored the first nine points. Rosales hit three consecutive shots from the charity stripe to put the Warriors up 36-35 three minutes in.

At that moment Socorro looked like it was on the cusp of adding it all up, putting it all together and growing into the team it’s shown it can be at times.

But then the Dons found the hot hand from 3-point land again, stepped into a relentless full-court press and flustered the Warriors, forcing them into three straight turnovers.

Joseph Ortiz nailed two consecutive 3-pointers, then D.J. Bustos stole the ball and laid it in, all in about 45 seconds. Just like that, the Dons were leading 48-39. Tino Castellano hit another 3-ball in the waning moments of the third, and West Las Vegas had built itself a 10-point, 51-41 lead.

“I told them (at halftime) the key to the game was the first three minutes, is to come back a basket at a time, handle the pressure and run an offense. We didn’t do that,” Baca said. “We got back in it with our energy, but when we needed to slow it down and run an offense. We didn’t do that. We started turning the ball over.”

The Warriors clawed their way back to within eight points with 3:30 left in the game, but Michael Quintana hit a dagger of a 3-pointer from the baseline with three minutes remaining to give West Las Vegas a 66-55 lead and all but seal the Dons’ victory.

The figurative overhead light bulb is there for Socorro. It’s just a matter of the whole team turning them on simultaneously. If the Warriors can do that, they have a definitive chance to win some games during district.

“The problem right now is we haven’t put a complete game together where everybody plays well,” Baca said. “We haven’t put it all together and that’s what’s hurting us right now. We’re not the type of team where we have one star and he’s going to carry us. We have to do it as a team otherwise we’re going to be in trouble. In order to give ourselves a chance to win, we all have to play together.”

Ethan Smith led all scorers in the game with 20 points. Paz finished with 13 and Dylan Gallegos scored eight. Ortiz led the Dons with 16 points.

The loss dropped Socorro to 3-12 on the season and West Las Vegas improved to 4-11.

The Warriors are on the road at Wingate on Jan. 22, then open up District 3-3A play on the road at Hot Springs on Feb. 1.