ALBUQUERQUE—Two-time defending champion No. 1 Magdalena was on the brink of overtime when Kael Stephens hit a three-pointer to tie the game, but a mental-miscue foul led to No. 2 Fort Sumner/House taking the game-winning free throws to end the Steers’ title reign 45-43.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way as Magdalena entered the Class A state title bout at The Pit on the University of New Mexico campus with a perfect 31-0 mark. The Steers had a five-point December win at the Foxes’ den to justify their No. 1 ranking, but the Foxes (29-2) owned four summertime wins over the Steers’ program.
It was billed as the premier matchup of the state tournament, and it lived up to every minute – right down to those devasting seconds when the chance at victory was fading away at the charity stripe.
Behind the scenes, the Steers were battered, with starting point guard Josh Baca limited with a severely bruised heel he suffered against Clovis Christian.
The Steers fell behind in the first half, and that’s not a scenario that Magdalena fans are used to watching. The last-shot scheme and not fouling with the game tied are also the things Magdalena coach Jory Mirabal covers in practice, but you can’t create the championship-game pressure in your home gym.
“It’s just one of those deals where you have a sophomore out there, and he’s making some mistakes,” Mirabal said. “I told him right there, that’s on me. You get a kid that makes a play like that. That’s the coach’s fault. We talked about all those scenarios. We go over scenarios in practice, and you know, and we would understand scoring time, and we didn’t.”
Given the Steers had been playing catchup for 16 minutes of game action, it was hard to switch gears with the score tied at 43-43.
While the game boiled down to the action-packed final seconds, Fort Sumner tore over the last part of the first quarter and into halftime as the Foxes took a 32-21 lead into the locker room.
Missed shots hurt the Steers more than anything else as Magdalena was just 3-13 shots in the second quarter, while Fort Sumner was blazing away, hitting 6-9 from the field and was 3-5 from three-point range.
The Steers pressured the full court in the third quarter and set traps the Foxes fell into, but the murderous pace started racking up the fouls. Fort Sumner would score just 13 points the remainder of the way, and seven would come at the free-throw line.
Down by 13 points, the Steers began an improbable climb outscoring the Foxes 11-4 in the third quarter, and Kael Stephens, D’Shaun Vinyard and Joseph Zamora scored in the fourth to mount the final charge.
It would all come down to the final 30 seconds as Kael Stephens intentionally fouled out with Magdalena trailing 42-40 to give the Steers a chance at possession. One more free throw left the Steers down 43-40, and Stephens’ brother, Krae, came into the game. The junior nailed the game-tying shot in front of his bench and coach.
The wrap-up foul that followed translated to Magdalena beating itself. With the score tied 43-43, the Foxes’ Chance Thomson stepped up to the free-throw line. As the two shots hit home, it marked the end of a remarkable and historic run for the Steers.
The loss ends Magdalena’s 45-game winning streak, which ranks third all-time in New Mexico boys basketball. The Steers have completed each of their last four seasons in the state championship game and posted a 107-3 mark over that period.