After winning its season opener over St. Pius X, the Manzano High School boys basketball team dropped two consecutive games at home to top contenders from southern New Mexico.

But Monarchs head coach Dominick Romero said “it’s very, very early” in the season and the team is still trying to figure out its identity.

“We’ve got some guys that are trying to find themselves and until we do that, it’ll be a challenge,” Romero said.

Manzano lost 75-63 to the visiting Oñate Knights (3-2) on Dec.7; the Monarchs fell 71-50 the next day to the visiting Las Cruces Bulldawgs (5-0).

“Those two teams are tough,” Romero said of Oñate and Las Cruces. “They’re in the top five in the state—they’re solid.”

The Bulldawgs set the tone early, building a 9-0 lead early in the first quarter.

Manzano responded with a 7-0 run that was fueled by Dakota Powell’s 3-pointer and capped by Jack Blankenship’s layup to trim the gap to 9-7 near the end of the stanza.

Manzano’s Dakota Powell reaching for the rim in the first half against Las Cruces.

“I think at that point we felt like we had a chance to get in it,” Blankenship said. “We were making runs, we were making shots and we had a bunch of energy.”

Blankenship finished with 8 points and Powell tallied 6. Both players live in Cedar Crest.

The Bulldawgs extended their lead to 15 points in the second quarter before the Monarchs produced another 7-0 run, buoyed again by a Powell 3-pointer and a layup from Blankenship. Roman Romero capped the run with a layup off an offensive rebound to trim the gap to 37-29 at halftime.

Romero chipped in 6 points and Tyler Allen led the Monarchs with 9.

Las Cruces started the second half with another 9-0 run and outscored Manzano 23-10 in the frame.

The Monarchs played catch-up the rest of the game.

“There’s a lot of highs and lows in these games,” coach Romero said, adding that he liked the hustle and energy he saw in his players.

“Our effort is there,” Romero said. “We’ve got some skilled players, we’ve just gotta get it organized and put it all together.”

The Monarchs played at the Joe Armijo Tournament at Albuquerque Academy Dec. 13-15.