Magdalena’s Joseph Zamora prepares to go up for a shot against Elida in in the Class 1A state championship game Saturday.
Glen Rosales photos | For El Defensor Chieftain

 

ALBUQUERQUE – To be fair, the Class 1A boys state basketball championship game wasn’t so much a contest as a coronation.

Defending state champion and top seed Magdalena ran roughshod over No. 2 Elida, which held a mistaken belief that the Tigers could somehow stay with the Steers.

Bad decision.

Magdalena rolled up and down the court, using a four-minute, 14-0 outburst midway through the first quarter to grab a commanding 24-6 lead enroute to a dominating 71-55 victory that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate.

Joren Mirabal drives on the Elida defense after taking a pass from Joshua Baca.

By three minutes into the third quarter, the lead had grown to 51-25, and the closest it got was the final score.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was 3 or 4 years old,” said senior team leader Joren Mirabal, who finished with 21 points and added four assists. “And to end with a bang feels tremendous.”

High-flying wing D’Shaun Vinyard delivered the bang for the Steers (31-1) with 30 points and 11 rebounds as the style of play fit directly into his strengths.

“I’m a runner,” he said. “I do a lot of running in track. It helps me in basketball, too.”

And Mirabal quickly added of Vinyard, “High point in track, by the way, that explains why.”

While Vinyard and Mirabal were slashing through the Elida defense to take it to the basket, or dropping 3-pointers from outside, Jeffrey Stuteville was cleaning the glass on the rare misses, pulling down 11 rebounds.

“Every time I go to the game, I think about hustling as hard as I can and to get every ball I can to help my team,” he said. “That worked out good (Saturday).”

While the Steers have now won back-to-back championships and been in the season finale three straight seasons, each was special in its own way, said coach Jory Mirabal.

D’Shaun Vinyard goes to the hoop on his way to scoring a game-high 30 points.

“Each one is an individual journey, because that is what it is,” he said. “It doesn’t get any less sweet. It’s always bittersweet because it’s the end of one more journey together as a group.”

But this group certainly put a stamp in the tournament, winning each game by double digits after a 71-25 semifinal win over Clovis Christian on Friday that featured Kael Stephens getting 18 points and Joseph Zamora 17.

Still, with the blue trophy on the line, the expectation was for a tighter battle, coach Mirabal said.

“I guess when you get to the championship game and it’s one versus two, you want to it to be a good matchup,” he said. “I did feel like Elida did give us everything they had. We knew that they would come out and wouldn’t quit. They were aggressive. And so, we expected everything we got.”

Still, seeing the frenetic opening moments unfold brought a smile to the coach’s face.

“It was kind of a tailor-made matchup as far as that goes,” coach Mirabal said. “It’s two teams that want to play exactly the same. What we faced a lot of times during the year was teams trying to figure out how to keep us from doing what we want to do. Elida wanted to do what we like to do so it was a nice matchup.”

If he had it do over again, however, Tigers coach Jared Fraze said he might try something different.

“It was a 16-point game,” he pointed out. “We could have made some better decisions early, probably not pressing. And maybe start out in a box and one (zone). Might have kept it a little closer. It might have been a seven-point game. Who knows?”

Magdalena players celebrate a second straight Class 1A state championship.

Still, the Steers’ hustle and drive was evident throughout the game as they were constantly hitting the floor diving for loose balls and fighting for every possession, something that is characteristic of the team.

“We talk about it all the time that each possession is its own possession,” Joren Mirabal said. “And we want to succeed every possession. So, we treat every single one like it is the last possession.”

It is something that’s been bred into the program over the years, coach Mirabal said.

“It’s something we talk about as a program and it extends beyond basketball, is we want to get the most out of every minute,” he said, tearing up briefly. “Whether it’s life or practice or games. And this group of kids—and it’s been for a while—that’s why it’s been such a privilege of coaching these kids. They’ve really bought into that mentality of let’s exhaust every minute that we can.”

With the championship safely secured, work will quickly begin to pursue the three-peat, as the team only has two seniors.

“We have a good group coming back and we’re excited to see what the next trip is going to be,” coach Mirabal said. “It’s just a part of what we do. I don’t know that I can get a whole lot of credit for motivating them. We just established a sort of tradition the last 10-15 years. And from a young age, the kids want to be a part of it, so they come out, know what we expect because of the groups before them. This championship has been built over the last 18 years of kids buying in and doing the things we want them to be doing.”