Steers boys unexpectedly drop first game of season

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Few people may have expected the Magdalena boys basketball team to begin the season 11-0, given the amount of starting talent the Steers lost from last season.

After Mag started 11-0, perhaps even fewer fans might have expected them to come back from Desert Academy with their first loss, but the Wildcats handed Mag its first defeat this season on Jan. 18, 50-45.

Every team and every coach dreams of an undefeated season, and a loss is by no means the end of the world, but a district loss never bodes well with a team that had previously been on a heck of a roll.

"I don't believe in good losses," Steers head coach Jory Mirabal said.

"Part of the problem with that one was that it was a district game. You don't want to go lose your first district game, but you take things for what they are. Hopefully we learned something from it. I hope we realized that every district game is going to be a battle."

There may have been an understandable reason why the Steers fell to the Wildcats in Santa Fe as double-double stalwart Sedrick Apachito wasn't in the lineup for disciplinary reasons, and his lack of presence was definitely felt.

But sophomore guards Dre Montoya and Tyler Julian more than picked up the slack as Mag won its next two contests against Mountainair and Alamo Navajo in convincing fashion.

Against the Mustangs on Jan. 19, Montoya dropped a nearly unbelievable 39 points, shooting 15-for-18 from the field, while Julian chipped in 23 points of his own. The sophomore duo continued their scoring tear against Alamo on Jan. 22 when Julian dropped 27 and Montoya scored 21.

For Mirabal and his squad so far this season, it's basically been a matter of filling the necessary gaps. And that they're doing quite well.

"We've been scrambling around trying to get some lineups," he said. "The next man up has been doing a good job. You have kids in roles that they weren't necessarily used to. There's been a lot of kids that have decided, based on their play, that have filled in that void."

Barak Stephens and Mike Chambers are the ones currently filling that void, as they scored 11 and eight points, respectively, against the Cougars.

Given the apparent and perhaps unfounded idea that Mag has faced a less than stellar schedule so far this year, any active role player for the Steers will go a long way in helping to ensure a postseason birth, even though that thought might be rather far away. At least chronologically.

The Steers are currently ranked third in Class 1A, and they'll have ample opportunity to prove themselves in upcoming weeks. To'hajiilee, Desert Academy and Menaul, all future Mag opponents, are ranked in the top 14 teams in Class 1A.

"At the end of the day we've got to go with our own strength," Mirabal said. "I think when all the dust settles, we'll be able to hold our (schedule) up against anybody else's."

The Steers play 3-11 Jemez Valley this afternoon on the road, then return home to play host to To'hajiilee on Feb. 1.