Magdalena’s Kael Stephens just might have the best vertical leap in Socorro County, and he’s not afraid to muscle up and bull his way to the hoop.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

Two years ago, 3A Hot Springs was a state basketball champion, but the Tigers of 2022 were no match for 1A Magdalena as the two-time defending state champions continued their rough-shod ways in stretching their season record to 5-0 with a 57-23 win.

The win also increases the Steers’ winning streak to 20 games, and Magdalena hasn’t been on the wrong side of the scoreboard since Jan. 19 of last year when No. 1 3A Tularosa (26-3) slipped by with a 67-56 victory.

Steers’ fans have probably already circled Jan. 20 on the 2023 portion of their game schedules because Tularosa will be in town, and Magdalena will be looking for a bit of payback. The matchup is perfectly set the day before the Steers open district play against Mesilla Valley Christian School.

That’s still in the future, and Steers’ head coach Jory Mirabal is still looking for improvement and the chemistry needed if Magdalena wants to get that rare three-peat.

It’s hard to imagine Magdalena’s defense getting better than what’s already on the court, but Mirabal hasn’t built a program by being satisfied with what he sees early in a season.

Magdalene’s Josh Baca beats a pair of defenders in the paint.

“Our defense, that’s the thing that I’m happiest with right now. We preach it all the time. And that’s something that we’ve talked about for years, and we want to play team defense, nothing easy, especially in the halfcourt,” Mirabal said.

When Hot Springs managed to get the ball to the halfcourt area, the Tigers found themselves in icy waters, and the ball kept slipping away and turning into points for the Steers.

“Our full-court pressure is just to get us into the half-court where we get a lot of stops. I am very happy with our team stops. We are doing a good job at half-court with a lot of ball pressure and having the help behind it,” Mirabal said.

After the Steer Stampede, Mirabal said he wanted the Steers to continue improving their inside game, which will complement the air Olympics on display by Kael Stephens and D’Shaun Vinyard.

Both players can get the ball inside, but 6-5 sophomore post Joseph Zamora outweighs each of them by 30 pounds, and his frame is ideal inside, where he muscled in 13 points.

“Our inside game is coming along. I mean, I can see the steps. It’s exciting, you know, once these guys figured out how to use each other inside, and that wasn’t necessarily just a little team. I mean, they had some matchup with us, but we’re starting to see some of those things, and that’s exciting,” Mirabel said.

Unselfish play also led to some highlights across the court for the entire Steers’ offense.

“I was happy about that. Some of our guys that are our good scorers are starting to see how people are playing them and how it opens it up for others,” Mirabal said.

Vinyard’s 18 topped all scorers, while Stephens had 11. Adding to Magdalena’s points total were Jeff Stuteville 6, Josh Baca 5, Jeff Stuteville 6, Matthew Parker 2 and Clayton Atwood 2.

Magdalena plays at home on Dec. 20 at 4 p.m. against Pine Hill.