After shaking off a slow start, two-time defending champion Magdalena is headed back to the state title game. Magdalena steadily pulled away from Clovis Christian for a 50-23 semifinal win at the Rio Rancho Events Center on March 9.
The win propels the Steers (31-0) into their third straight Class A boys state championship game, where they will face Fort Sumner/House (28-2) in a contest that has been anticipated since the start of the season.
(See more game photos here Photo Gallery: Magdalena Steers reach state finals for third-straight year – El Defensor Chieftain (dchieftain.com) )
Fans got a taste of what the championship game will be like on Dec. 29, when Magdalena topped Fort Sumner on the road 43-39 in the closest game the Steers have been in this season. Fort Sumner’s only other loss was a narrow 64-56 setback against Class 5A Los Lunas.
Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup at The Pit on the University of New Mexico’s campus is a date with destiny for Magdalena. The Steers’ backstory is a 46-game winning streak, and Magdalena can become one of ten schools that collected state titles in three consecutive seasons.
All of that will be icing on the cake, but first, the Steers will have to overcome Fort Sumner and clean up some offensive miscues that have plagued them in their quarter and semifinal games.
Against Clovis, the Steers had some early turnover problems, and Magdalena’s usually rock-solid outside shooting was 1-10 from three-point range in the first half. Going from playing at Bernalillo High School to the RREC on consecutive nights had Magdalena (and Clovis) struggling with the seemingly endless space of the wide-open center.
Senior guard D’Shaun Vinyard led the early charge as he scored seven of Magdalena’s nine first-quarter points, but once the Steers were on top 9-0, Clovis mounted a comeback and trailed by 9-6, headed into the second quarter.
The Eagles would continue to surge as the Steers’ worked on finding a way inside and cutting down on missed shots. The move also led to Clovis picking up fouls and Magdalena starting what would eventually become a feast at the free-throw line, hitting 4-6 in the first half and 19-24 for the game.
Clovis would pull to within three points (15-12) midway through the second quarter, but Magdalena started a slow climb back up the hill and led 20-12 at the half.
The Eagles’ game plan was to slow the pace of the action as much as possible, and like the three teams before them, the strategy blew up in their faces.
“Give a lot of credit to Clovis Christian. They came out in that zone and wanted to kind of play at that speed,” Magdalena coach Jory Mirabal said. “We were comfortable playing that speed, to be honest. That was the speed the game was going to be played at tonight.”
One thing teams can’t do is slow down the Steers’ defense, which is the true secret to Magdalena’s success, and it is a massive source of pride for the program. The Steers countered their 14 turnovers with nine steals (Kael Stephens, 3) and forced the Eagles into 21 turnovers. Magdalena out rebounded Clovis 38-26. Twenty-four of those boards came on the defensive end, and sophomore Jeff Stuteville led the way with nine.
“We have been a running team since we were little kids,” Stephens said. “Slowing down takes you out of your element a little bit, but it’s not much different than practice because we work on a half-court offense all the time, so it’s not anything crazy.”
Clovis was still upset-minded when it came out of the halftime locker room, but the die had been cast with Magdalena in a comfortable mindset that the game’s pace would continue to be meticulous in speed. The only return on the Eagles’ slow investment was nine field goals for the entire game.
“Our determination was to go and do the best we can, and if we are coming out slow, we need to do our best to pick it up and just play,” Vinyard said.
Vinyard’s 16 points were a game-high, and Stephens pumped in 13 to lead the Steers’ scoring, which also got points from four bench players.
Now the Steers’ focus turns to face Fort Sumner. Still, for Mirabal, the experience is a lot more than just playing a basketball game for a championship because he remembers this crop of seniors that have been around his program since they were in diapers.
“Oh, it’s exciting. You want to extend your experience. We get to play one more game as a group and have a longer weekend, have all that stuff that goes into being a team one more time,” Mirabal said. “That means more to me than the championship. And I’ve been talking to the boys about that, to extend that journey — to extend the time we spend together. One more time, that’s exciting to me. The championship part is the icing on the cake. ”
D’Shaun Vinyard 16, Kael Stephens 13, Jeff Stuteville 6, Matthew Parker 4, Joseph Zamora 4, Kaleb Castanon 3, Lambrent Ganadonegro 2, Jacob Markland 2.