The only way to describe the 2019-20 Magdalena Steers basketball team’s campaign is simple - uncanny. The Steers went a perfect 30-0 and won by double digits in every game, until the NMAA State Championship game against the Pecos Panthers, in which they fell in a one versus two matchup 63-53 Panthers.
The playoffs run for Magdalena began with a March 7 win at home against the McCurdy Bobcats 68-18. From there it was a March 11 showdown at the Santa Ana Star Center in which the Steers delivered a swift, but also closer for comfort than one would want victory, against the seventh seeded Texico Wolverines 52-45.
In the opening tip of the quarter, Texico had the ball but could not make a basket. Senior Kyle Julian secured a rebound. The game was stagnant on both ends of the floor early until sophomore Joren Mirabal hit a big corner three to break the cycle. Julian, who was not perfect scoring wise offensively in this game, was absolutely tenacious on defense with multiple steals which lead to several sweet dishes for scores which helped put the Steers up 14-2 after the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Wolverines junior Anders Nelson got things going with a nice score off the glass to keep them in the game. That was quickly silenced when a wild three pointer made by Jaxson Mirabal hit after a time out.
Texico had themselves a bit of a comeback out of halftime, cutting Magdalena’s lead to one point eventually at 37-36. Both Julian and senior Owen Olney hit clutch free throws to stave off the opposition. From that point the steers began to pull away which led to the team advancing.
Steers Head Coach Jory Mirabal was looking forward to the next round despite the team’s second half performance.
“First of all you have to keep looking forward,” he said. “You have to give a lot of credit to Texico. When you get to this point seeding doesn’t mean anything and a lot of credit goes out to Texico for putting out a good game plan and making adjustments. On the flip side of that I would give a lot of credit to my boys to have a game like this which we haven’t had all season.”
“Being aggressive as a team was big today,” Steers junior Mason Greenwood said. “Getting team stops. It was not about one on one matchups. You always try to improve your effort every play.”
Julian was also excited after the game, crediting his coaches for giving him opportunities to succeed.
“As a younger player our coaches have given us opportunities,” he said. “Down here (Magdalena) we’re all leaders. We come out on offense and defense. I’m a talkative guy so I yell it out and try to get everyone on the same spot. From there I needed to get to the rack and fortunately I was blessed that they went in.”
In the semifinals, the Steers faced off with Jal Panthers at the Pit in a stadium with almost zero fans due to the COVID-19 virus scare. A seven seed, Jal upset the third seeded Santa Rosa Lions during the quarters 47-42.
Stadium officials were on lockdown at this point with only essential personnel and players allowed into the Dreamstyle Arena, the final major championship games to take place by the NMAA for the next three weeks. Magdalena was on an uneasy playing field in front of an almost empty crowd. ‘Corona Virus’ officials were on site scanning some players, officials, media and coaching staff.
“This was something we’ve been firing on all cylinders for,” Olney said. “Our team came out with the right mentality, particularly in the situation that we’re in. We brought our energy and it was about us eleven taking care of what we had to do on the floor.”
Into the game. Kyle Julian led the team huddle as he has done all season with the ‘WE WILL WIN’ chant. The steers hit first with a dagger three early in the first by Joren Mirabal. Jal responded from the free throw line, but Greenwood put in a quick layup to show who was in charge. Olney had a big dunk to make it 12-3 and Jal Head Couch Emmanuel Lujan calling for time. The game came down to a taller team overall in the Panthers versus a more skilled team in the Steers.
With a big block by Olney and precision steal by Jaxson, the Jal team could not buy a shot in the second half against the Magdalena defense, leading them to the championship game. The Magdalena team looked unbeatable heading into its 1 vs 2 matchup season finale against Pecos.
Then came the championships. For a team that is defensive minded from season to season, the Steers were outmatched. Joren Mirabal scored 20 points in the final game to lead Magdalena, but he was 8-21 shooting. Olney was just 3-10 with a three added in and three of seven from the line. Meanwhile Pecos had things going with seniors Anthony Armijo and Xavier Padilla on a scoring frenzy.
Yet again Pecos took the whole thing in the 2A state rankings. It is their fourth year in a row, defeating the Magdalena Steers for the second time as well as giving the team its fourth straight title. Head coach Mirabal was defeated and proud of the team with a 30-1 record overall on the year.
Head coach for the Pecos Panthers expressed gratitude for the unwavering support of the community, saying “without you we would not have gotten this’. He also noted great respect for the Magdalena team and their coaching.
Coach Jory Mirabal was reflective. “This was an unforgettable season for us,” he said. “This was enjoyable for me and hard for them as I get to do this every year. But each one of these teams get that one experience as a group. Every season is so unique but what was different with this group is that they chant family and brotherhood and these guys really are. Being a part of that as a coach is very special.”
In 2020 the Mirabal family its last season playing basketball together at the state level in high school. Both senior Jaxson and sophomore Joren were emotional about the experience.
“I can’t even describe this feeling,” Jaxson said. “I went through this with my older brother. We had the same kind of run when he (Jorrell Mirabal) was a senior and all three of us were on a team. We came up short but I wouldn’t change it for the world to step out there on the court with the guys I grew up with. I was just lucky to make it to this last game with Joren and all of my teammates by my side. I am blessed to have the chance to play with my family members.”
“I remember playing ball at the barn with truck head lights on at a dirt court,” Joren added. “Putting on boots to play in front of that big crater on the ground at home. You always try to play tough.”
Final top scorers at state for Magdalena;
Joren Mirabal - 39 points. 8 assist. 5 rebounds.
Kyle Julian - 28 points. 12 rebounds. 11 assists.
Owen Olney - 21 points. 8 Rebounds. 5 Assists.