Steers drop district finale at To'hajiilee

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The Warriors just haven't been gracious hosts to Magdalena this year.

And it's not that they should be. To'hajiilee has done what it's supposed to against the Steers, and that's to protect its home court.

It beat Magdalena on Feb. 19 in the regular season, and in the District 2-1A tournament final Saturday the Steers fell just a few points short of bringing home a league trophy.

The Warriors hit key free throws down the stretch to squeak by Magdalena 83-78.

Tyler Julian scored 28 points and had 10 assists and eight rebounds to lead the Steers, while Dre Montoya had 23 points and six boards.

Sedrick Apachito had another double-double, scoring 15 and reeling in 14 rebounds.

Magdalena took a 43-37 lead into the locker room at halftime, but the Warriors responded in the third by outscoring the Steers 23-13 to take a four point lead.

It was a back and forth contest in the final period, but To'hajiilee did enough from the charity stripe to seal the win.

The loss dropped Mag to 25-3 on the season, but it still has work left to do. On Sunday the New Mexico Activities Association named the Steers the six-seed in the state tournament. They'll play host to McCurdy on March 9.

The 18-8 Bobcats finished 3-1 in District 4-1A.

Being seeded sixth might seem low for Mag fans given its outstanding record, but that is right where head coach Jory Mirabal had his team after Friday's loss at To'hajiilee.

"I think we got what we deserved based on how we finished," he said. "I think we are better than a six seed, but I understand why we got it. Actually that's exactly where I had us on the input form I sent in. I had us as a six. Based on the bylaws they have in place, they couldn't have placed us higher than To'hajiilee."

The Warriors, who won the regular season and the league tournament, were granted the three seed and will play host to Tatum in the first round.

"This time of year I don't buy too much into those seeds and that's what I told the boys," Mirabal said.

"I've been with teams that have been seeded number one and lost early, and I've been with teams that were seeded six, seven, eight, and got all the way to the championship game."

While Mirabal isn't too concerned with specific seeds or numbers right now, there are some interesting parallels, or probably more accurately some perpendiculars regarding this year's bracket.

All season long the message boards have been lit up with descriptions of Magdalena's schedule being a "cupcake" schedule, and District 2-1A being weak. The committee still saw fit to place four teams from Mag's league in the championship bracket though.

"That's what kind of got me. You can't say we have a weak district, and then put four of us in the state tournament," Mirabal said.

"I have a feeling some of those teams are going to give people a run for their money. I don't think we get enough credit for our district. I think we're a solid group."

Mirabal also pointed out several teams that play in the same district were placed on the same side of the bracket.

For example, who Logan and Fort Sumner both play in District 3-1A could potentially meet in the semifinals and the same goes for Springer and Questa out of District 1-1A.

On the other side of the bracket are Magdalena, To'hajiilee and Desert Academy from 2-1A; Capitan and Hagerman from 7-1A; and Escalante and McCurdy from 4-1A. All of those teams have played each other three times so far this season, so it's somewhat difficult to speculate the committee's process. If these teams met in the playoffs again, what would it really prove after they've beat enup on each other during league play?

Regardless, the Steers have a tough opponent on the horizon in McCurdy and they won't overlook the Bobcats. But seeing a possible quarterfinal matchup with To'hajiilee is at the very least an enticing prospect for Mirabal and his squad.

"Well, there's no guarantee we get past Saturday, and that's our biggest thing right now," he said.

"I was excited at the seeding because I wanted my young group to be able to play that first game at home. We want to take care of that first. But honestly I'd lying to you if I didn't take a look at that bracket and go 'hmm, look who's on our side.'"

And Mag definitely likes the setup it has. If the Steers can get through Saturday, Mirabal thinks it might be nice to have a shot at a team it can find some redemption against. Magdalena beat To'hajiilee at home while short-handed, and the Warriors beat Mag twice on their home floor. But if both teams win their first-round games, their fourth meeting would be played at Bernalillo High School.

"Let's see what happens on a neutral floor," he said. "Maybe a neutral floor might be interesting."

Tipoff against McCurdy is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday in Magdalena.