Top seeds in the state basketball tournament are expected to routinely rout their opening-round opponents in preparation for tougher match ups in later games.
Under that criteria, both the Socorro boys in Class 3A and the Magdalena boys in 1A succeeded magnificently.
That left the Warriors (21-5) with a home game Wednesday against No. 8 Crownpoint (22-7) and the Steers (28-1) home Wednesday against ninth-seeded Dora (17-9). Both games were played after the Defensor Chieftain’s deadline but both teams were vying to reach Rio Rancho/Bernalillo for Friday night’s semifinal games.
Socorro advanced to the quarterfinals with an 81-48 win over Tucumcari as four Warriors reached double figures and nine got into the scorebook.
“We came out and we gave up the first bucket, but then after that we went on 16-0 and we were able to maintain it throughout the game,” Socorro coach J.J. Griego said. “At no point were we in trouble.”
Duda Jackson scored 19 points and Marcus Armijo had 15, including three first-half 3-pointers to lead the attack as the Warriors built a 43-17 lead at halftime. Jayden Fowler added 12 points and Warren Chewiwi had 11.
But getting the entire squad playoff experience was important, Griego said.
“We were able to get our young players in and players we don’t play as often some quality state tournament experience,” he said.
Additionally, it let the team work on some aspects of the game under playoff pressure.
“We were able to work on a lot of things to get ready for the upcoming run,” he said. “We could run offensive plays. They had to go man to man and against a man defense which we haven’t seen much this year. And we were able to play some man to man ourselves because going farther in the tournament, at some point you’re going to be behind and you have to go man to man, if you’re down a little bit.”
So it was just what the Warriors needed.
“Over the year, the team has learned not to take anybody lightly,” Griego said. “It was an excellent game for our players to realize that everybody is dangerous.”
Socorro was able to overcome a rare poor shooting night from the outside with a strong defensive effort.
“We were getting some fast break points, and some lay ups. We did not shoot the ball well at all, compared to what we normally shoot. We can shoot 35 to 40 percent from 3-point land so we had to get other options. That was one of the positive. And one or two of my kids came in off the bench and they hit a couple of threes.”
The Steers turned in a similarly strong effort with a 74-25 win over Ramah.
“The brackets are really just a formality,” Magdalena coach Jory Mirabal said. “Once the tournament is set, you have to play your games. Everybody know if you don’t win, you go home. So you expect every game is going to be everybody’s best shot. I don’t think it was anything different Saturday. Ramah wanted to extend its season.”
That, however, was not to be as four Steers hit double figures, led by 20 from D’Shaun Vinyard as he hit 75-percent from the field. Joseph Zamora added 14, with 13 from Joren Mirabal and 10 from Kael Stephenson.
Impressively, Magdalena registered assists on 17 of its 28 baskets, with Mirabal and Joshua Baca each contributing seven.
“That’s typical for us,” coach Mirabal said. “It’s a conscious effort of ours, to have good ball movement. To find opportunities for the right people in the right places at the right times.”
Furthermore, as defending champs, the coach was pleased with the workmanlike attitude the Steers possessed.
“I liked our approach to a game like that,” he said. “It was a game where we knew some things and talked about some things, and they executed those things. I feel like it’s really important that it is player led. People on the floor that lead from the inside and I saw that on Saturday.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt the team’s maturity that it has played in the season finale the past two seasons.
“We’ve played in two straight state championship games,” coach Mirabal said. “They understand what we’re up against to go through a state tournament and that experience is very valuable this time of year.”