Sundevils Win Tournament In Albuquerque

by Staff Reporter / Dec 11, 2017 / comments
The Española valley High School boys basketball team took first place at the Sundevil Invitational Tournament hosted by Sandia Prep School in Albuquerque. The Sundevils defeated Mesilla valley Christian School 86-68 Dec. 9 in the championship game. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Win Tournament In Albuquerque

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Española Valley High School boys basketball team remains undefeated on the season defeating Mesilla Valley Christian School 86-68 Dec. 9 in the championship game of the Sundevil Invitational Tournament hosted by Sandia Prep School in Albuquerque. Española is now 4-0 on the season.

The Española Sundevils (Sandia Prep’s mascot is also the Sundevils) survived a tough opening-round game against Silver High School Dec. 7, taking a 65-60 overtime victory against the Colts. In the semifinals, Española pulled away from St. Pius X High School 74-52 for a 20-point victory. The Sundevils led 30-27 at halftime. Española took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Sartans 26 -13 to lead 56-40 going into the fourth quarter.

“I felt everybody contributed to the victories,” Española Coach James Branch said. “We’re working on developing a bench and executing in our half-court offense.”

The bench certainly came through in the championship game, scoring 48 points led by Martin Gracia’s 20 points coming in off the bench.

“Martin came in and hit a bunch of three’s (three-point baskets),” Coach Branch said.

Española’s Martin Gracia drives in for a layup. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Ten different players put points in the score book for the Sundevils, while Mesilla Valley got all of its points from just five players. The SonBlazers led 11-10 in the first quarter. A Ryan Trujillo basket and a three-pointer by Gracia gave the Sundevils a 15-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Española’s J. P. Sena shoots a jumper against Mesilla Valley. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Española started to pull away in the second quarter as post Azaziah Salazar made his presence felt in the paint and on the perimeter, scoring 10 points that included a three-pointer and an old-fashioned, three-point play.

Española’s Azaziah Salazar goes up for two points against Mesilla Valley. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The score was 29-24 when the Sundevils put together a 15-4 that included Salazar’s three–pointer and another by Isaiah Vigil. Española led 43-28 at halftime.

The SonBlazers’ Nolan Nunley and Hunter Conn found the range from three-point land and Mesilla Valley made a run at the Sundevils in the third quarter. Conn’s second three-pointer made the score 53-46 in favor of the Sundevils. Española came back with an 8-2 run that ended with Christian Fernandez’s old-fashioned, three-point play that gave the Sundevils a 61-48 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The Sundevils broke out the long-range artillery and bombed the SonBlazers into submission in the fourth quarter. Gracia canned a pair of three-pointers, while Zach Mascarenas and Brian Martinez each had one as Española sank four long-range bombs to take a 73-54 lead. The Sundevils led by as many as 21 points before settling for an 18-point victory.

In addition to Gracia’s 20 points, Salazar and Fernandez each had 14 points. Nunley led all scorers with 26 points and Conn had 17 points for the SonBlazers.

In Española’s opening game against Silver, it looked like the Sundevils were headed to victory leading 51-41 in the fourth quarter. The Colts put together a 17-4 run to take a three-point lead. Fernandez tied the score with an old-fashioned, three-point play with a layup and a free throw. Española outscored Silver 7-2 in the four-minute overtime to pull out the victory.

“Silver is a good team and gave us all we wanted,” Coach Branch said. “We were fortunate to come away with a win. I didn’t do a good job of game management. I kinda got to improve my rotation and substitutions.”

In the semifinals against St. Pius X, defense turned the game around in the second half for the Sundevils. The score was tied 16-16 at the end of the first quarter. Española trailed in the second quarter but came back. Isaiah Vigil’s three-pointer gave Española a 30-27 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Española defense forced turnover after turnover against a frustrated St. Pius team. Española outscored the Sartans 26-13 to take a 56-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Sundevils pulled away in the fourth quarter to a 22-point victory.

“Defense is what we’re hanging our hat on,” Coach Branch said. “Defense is going to determine how successful this team is going to be.”

Española had six players score in double figures. Salazar had 13 points. Ryan Trujillo had 12 points and Vigil had 11 points. Gracia, Mascarenas and Fernandez each had 10 points.

The Sundevils were seeing their first action since their opening-game victory 80-48 Nov. 18 over Gallup High School at Gallup. The Sundevils have a veteran team with eight seniors on their roster.

“All of us have been playing together for eight years,” senior Salazar said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know what we need to do.”

Española’s Azaziah Salazar scores against Mesilla Valley. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Sundevils won the 2016 Class 5A state championship. Last season, Española had to deal with controversy surrounding former coach Richard Martinez, who led them to the 2016 state championship, but was fired soon after that by Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez. In the ensuing controversy, Gutierrez resigned, Martinez was rehired but then never coached the team while he was investigated by the State Public Education Department. His brother, Eric Martinez, served as head coach last season. The Sundevils were eliminated from the 2017 Class 5A state tournament, losing to Del Norte High School in the opening round. Richard Martinez had his coaching license suspended by the Education Department. Coach Branch was hired in May.

The Sundevils seem to be playing with a renewed enthusiasm now that the controversy is over.

“We’re just having fun playing basketball,” senior Salazar said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun. This is a special group.”

Coach Branch appreciates the effort the seniors are putting into the team.

“”I’m getting consistent play from that core group of seniors,” Coach Branch said. “They’re reliable as seniors should be. I can rely on them, but they can’t play the whole game. That’s why we’re developing a bench.”

Española faces Santa Fe High School Tuesday (12/12) in their first home game of the season.