Sundevils Win Rio Rancho Tournament, Roll Over Host Rams 72-54

by Staff Reporter / Jan 02, 2018 / comments
The Española Valley High School boys basketball team took first place at the Rio Rancho Jalene Berger Holiday Hoops Tournament, defeating Rio Rancho High School 72-54 in the championship game. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Win Rio Rancho Tournament, Roll Over Host Rams 72-54

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Down by 10 points to the host Rio Rancho High School Rams in the championship game at the Rio Rancho Holiday Basketball Tournament, Española Valley High School came back with a furious defensive effort to turn the tables on Rio Rancho and take a 72-54 victory. Española will start 2018 with an undefeated 12-0 record.

Española’s Ryan Trujillo drives to the basket against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Once again, a second-half surge by the Sundevils carried Española to victory. Down 38-29 at halftime, the Sundevils trailed 44-34 in the third quarter. Española put together a 17-2 run with a pressing defense and precision bombing from the perimeter to take a 51-46 lead at the end of the third quarter. The Sundevils extended their lead to 20 points in the fourth quarter, holding the Rams to 16 points in the second half.

“We’re a second-half team,” senior Isaiah Vigil said. “We hit some shots, played good “D”, the crowd got involved and we just took off.” 

Vigil scored 25 points, including six three-pointers, and was voted the Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. His old-fashioned, three-point play cut Rio Rancho’s lead to 44-38 in the third quarter.

Española’s Isaiah Vigil drives in for a layup against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Sundevils then forced two straight turnovers. AZ Salazar cashed them in, scoring on the inside with a nice post move, then completing an old-fashioned, three-point play in the paint that made the score 44-43.

Española’s AZ Salazar looks for an opening against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

After a basket by the Rams, Salazar crossed up the Rio Rancho defense. Instead of shooting, he made a sweet inside pass to J. P. Sena, who was cutting to the basket. Sena scored on a layup. The Sundevils were within a point of catching the Rams.

Española’s J. P. Sena drives to the basket against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

When Vigil sank his fifth three-pointer of the game with 1:24 left in the third quarter, the Sundevils had completed their comeback and taken a 48-46 lead. Ryan Trujillo canned another three-pointer and the Sundevils led 51-46 heading into the fourth quarter.

Española Valley’s Ryan Trujillo shoots a jumper against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Vigil opened the fourth quarter with his sixth three-pointer. Trujillo followed with a basket. Vigil was wide open downcourt on Española’s next possession and scored on a fast-break layup. The Sundevils had outscored the Rams 24-2 and with five minutes left in the game, were in control with a 58-46 lead. Española finished the game going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line for a decisive 18-point victory.

“Never say die, just keep working,” Sena said. “That’s our mentality. That’s who we are.”

Rio Rancho had started the game taking a 9-2 lead, pounding the ball inside to Keshawn Banks and Blaine Gallegos. The rams led 14-5 when Martin Gracia came in off the bench and provided a spark for the Sundevils. Gracia sank two three-pointers, then intercepted a pass and scored on a layup under the basket. He scored all of his eight points in the first quarter. When Vigil sank a long three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter, the Sundevils trailed just 20-18 despite being dominated in the paint.

Española’s Martin Gracia drives to the basket against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

A three-pointer by Vigil gave Española its first lead 23-22 of the first half. The Rams dominated inside and led by nine points 38-29 at halftime.

A free throw by Banks after a technical foul on the Sundevils gave the Rams their biggest lead 44-34 in the third quarter. That’s when the Sundevils picked up the defense.

“They (the Rams) got a lot of easy shots,” Española Coach James Branch said. “They were too big to guard, so we went to a man-defense with a matchup zone. We got after it and turned it around. Lockdown defense. That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on.”

Española’s Christian Fernandez goes up for a shot against Rio Rancho. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Sundevils had advanced to the championship game after two hard-fought victories. Española defeated Piedra Vista Hgh School 71-62 Dec. 26 in the opening game. The Sundevils overcame a 30-28 halftime lead by the Panthers for the victory. In the semifinals against Onate High School from Las Cruces, the Sundevils nearly let the game slip away.  Española led 30-23 at halftime. The Knights cut the margin to 47-44 at the end of the third quarter. Onate led 56-55 with 31 seconds left to play, but an ill-advised shot by the Knights gave the ball back to Española with 17 seconds left to play. Trujillo drove in for a layup with six seconds left in the game to give Española a 57-56 lead. The Knights missed their final shot and the Sundevils had hung on for the victory.

“Everything just clicked tonight,” Coach Branch said after the victory over Rio Rancho. “Our offense and defense finally came together.”

Española faces St. Michael’s High School Wednesday (1/3/18) in Santa Fe. Española hosts Farmington High School Friday in Española.