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St. Michael’s overcomes challenges to roll over Socorro, 84-32

December 16, 2018

The St. Michael’s Horsemen were a little short-handed and underprepared on Saturday afternoon.

Three juniors on the team plus head coach David Rodriguez missed most of the week taking part in a school retreat in Pecos and only returned Saturday, just in time for a nondistrict home boys basketball game against Socorro.

Two freshmen, Devin Flores and Lucas Coriz, went to Bernalillo to take part in a junior varsity basketball tournament, which left just nine players to face the Warriors.

And senior Derek McQuiston saw his first real varsity action of the season after nursing an injured back for the first three weeks.

None of that mattered as the Horsemen rode their full-court press and a patient offense to cruise past Socorro, 84-32, in perhaps their best performance of the season. Rodriguez said the game was important for St. Michael’s (5-1) to establish its pressure defense, because it can be the driving force to a successful season.

“We’ve been working hard on our team defense. We’re trying to get better at that,” Rodriguez said. “Against good teams, we just have to get better. We’re not going to get to the level we want to by playing zone right now. We have to get out there and get active. We want to get up and down the floor, but our defense has to fuel that.”

It surely did for most of the game. Outside of a 7-2 Socorro lead in the opening minutes, the Horsemen pressed and ran past an intimidated Warriors backcourt that struggled to even get the first pass by the St. Michael’s press. Socorro (4-2) committed 22 turnovers in the opening half — which matched its point total as the Horsemen fashioned a 51-22 lead. Overall, the Warriors had 33 turnovers as St. Michael’s defensive intensity never wavered.

“We are all about running the floor, so reading the passing lanes was a huge thing,” said Connor Glatz, one of the three juniors who was on sabbatical. “We read the passing lanes well, cut off the ball and got a lot of steals.”

The Horsemen had 20 steals, and it helped them shoot a smoking-hot 37-for-60 from the field — 61.7 percent. Of that total, 27 of the buckets came from inside of 5 feet as St. Michael’s scored either in transition or worked its offense to where it got open looks. The best part about the performance, Rodriguez indicated, was that it came with minimal practice time for some players.

“A good player can process things mentally, and with concentration, can become better without a certain level of practice,” Rodriguez said. “It would be nice after Monday’s game [against East Mountain] that we have some time to prepare for Friday [Dec. 21’s game].”

That’s when the Horsemen head to Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium and take on Siringo Road rival Santa Fe High. While St. Michael’s continues to make its case as the team to beat in Class 3A, the Demons will be looking to regain some of the edge they had before losing Friday to Rio Rancho.

Glatz said the team learned the importance of maintaining its intensity level during the recent Bobby Rodriguez Capital City Tournament at Santa Fe High. It hurt the Horsemen when they let their guard down in the opening round game against Roswell, and the Coyotes used a 26-13 scoring run in the third quarter to overcome a 27-26 halftime deficit and win 67-56, handing St. Michael’s its only loss of the season.

“We have to play with the same intensity, so we don’t have that drop off when we play Santa Fe High [this] week,” Glatz said. “Just keeping the same intensity throughout the game is going to help us when we play those really good 5A schools.”

Of course, Rodriguez isn’t about to let his team overlook East Mountain, but he admitted that the bigger challenge for the Horsemen will come from within.

“I’ll go out on a limb and say it: East Mountain is not our competition,” Rodriguez said. “Right now, it’s ourselves. Concentrating and having that discipline, to get out there and be the aggressor and still play under control.”

For one day, St. Michael’s showed it can handle a little organized chaos.

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