A late three-pointer by No. 2 Fort Sumner/House’s Tra’von Bonds ended No.1 Magdalena’s hopes of a rally as the Steers were upset 45-38 in the Nusenda Class A boys state basketball championship at The Pit in Albuquerque on Saturday.

When senior Krae Stephens hit his second consecutive basket to pull Magdalena to within two points at 36-34 with two minutes remaining, it appeared the Steers were going to make a comeback in a game where more than five points didn’t separate the lead until the final 12 seconds.

That five-point separation started early as the Foxes (26-5) took a 7-2 lead over the Steers (30-2) before the Steers worked to pull the score at 10-10 when Ayden Herschbach hit a shot at the first-quarter buzzer.

Joseph Zamora gave the Steers their first lead of the contest with a basket at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter. While the score would be tied five more times, Magdalena managed to stay out front but never by more than five points.

Labrent Ganadonegro provided the cushion when he hit the only three-pointer the Steers would connect on in the contest, lifting his team to a 20-15 lead. Magdalena’s 1-15 shooting from behind the arc was vastly different from earlier this year when the Steers handed the Foxes a 78-58 loss and nailed 8 bombs.

The outcome of the Jan. contest set basketball tongues across the state to wagging and it lifted Magdalena fans’ hopes of bringing home another one of those blue championship trophies, but for a realist like Steers’ coach Jory Mirabal there were many factors to consider.

“Anytime you can beat somebody by 20, you love it, but they didn’t have number 2 (Joaquin Segura) when they played us,” Mirabal said. As far as that earlier game, both teams were a lot different at that time. They were missing Segura, who I think’s their best player. It’s just an early-season game. You don’t read too much into it either way.”

Segura popped in nine points for the Foxes but did most of his damage by passing out 7 of his team’s 12 assists, a good portion of which went to 6’7’ post-Cash Burney, who led Fort Sumner with 15 points.

One thing that was the same was that both teams provided a memorable final, much like last year when the defending state champion Foxes won their first title 45-43.

In that game, Zamora committed a late, unnecessary foul after the Steers had just been in foul mode before tying up the game. The junior recommitted himself to playing basketball in the offseason, and Mirabal pointed to him as a leader dedicated to returning to the championship.

Zamora did all he could Saturday, scoring a game-high 16 points, pulling down seven rebounds, and handing out six assists, but like his fellow players, the three-point arc proved to be an Achilles’ heel.

Despite the disappointment of the loss, Zamora appeared more focused on what his senior year would bring than on Saturday’s results.

“I’m just going to keep being the leader and working to get better every day,” Zamora said.

While it will take a little time for the hurt of the loss to fade, Magdalena’s players have many things to be proud of, including the fact that the Steers were not supposed to be here this season.

“As far as when that score (Jan. game) went, everybody wanted to start talking about it. They (Foxes) had the same team coming back. I lost six seniors last year. So, when we had them at home, I didn’t expect us to beat them then. I was hoping we could get back to this game and see what can happen,” Mirabal said.

What happened was a battle that will be long remembered, and things were only put to rest when Segura worked into an open three-point with 15.7 seconds and ended the hopes for a rally.

Other than the missed shots, Mirabal didn’t have complaints about how his team played.
“As far as controlling tempo I mean, sometimes you use the word tempo is feeling that’s a fast game. I feel like we can control the tempo, whether we slow it down or not, typically for someone who likes to run up and down the floor and throw up a bunch of shots,” Mirabal said. “We didn’t want to give them that opportunity. We slowed it down into a half-court game, and I wanted to take our chances and get our looks in a controlled environment. I felt like it just came down to some shots and that we got good looks they just didn’t fall tonight.”

Mirabal was responsible for comforting his players in the postgame locker room, which was a reminder of the culture of his basketball program.

“I think sometimes we get our heads wrapped around championships. I wouldn’t trade my experience with these boys, whether we won or lost. The fact that we got here when probably in some way we shouldn’t have got here. Other teams brought a lot more back than we did. It’s a huge credit to these boys, and I’m glad I have the opportunity to be on that experience with them. Trying to help them figure some things out in life, not just basketball, is a way bigger deal than anything they’re going to put on that floor.,” Mirabal said. “The way that our boys conduct themselves, whether they win or lose. The way they conduct themselves in the community. The things that they get themselves involved in. That, to me, is a win, and this other stuff is frosting on the cake.

Winning is all the Steers have done for the past 11 seasons, where Magdalena has 11 straight district titles, Over the past 12 years the Steers are an incredible 329-24 (93.2).

Scoring – Lanbrent Ganadonegro 5, Ayden Herschbach 6, Jeffery Stuteville 5, Joseph Zamora 17, Matthew Parker 0, Krae Stephens 4, Jacob Markland 4.

Russell Huffman, El Defensor Chieftain Asst. Editor