District 2-4A Race In Chaos

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Pojoaque's Ashten Martinez drives to the basket against Los Alamos' Rebecca Green in the Elkettes' 55-48 loss to the Lady Hilltoppers Feb. 5 at Pojoaque.

District 2-4A Race In Chaos

By George Morse

Before the competition among the District 2-4A girls basketball teams began, it was looking like a two team race between Española Valley High School and Pojoaque Valley High School. They were the only teams ranked among the top 16 teams in the state in Class 4A. Los Alamos High School, Moriarty High School and Taos High School were all ranked at 18th or lower. All three had losing records.

That was then. After Los Alamos defeated Española 69-59 Feb. 1 at Northern New Mexico College and followed that up handing Pojoaque a 55-48 Feb. 5 loss at Pojoaque, it’s the Hilltoppers who sit atop District 2-4A with a 4-0 record. Pojoaque is second at 3-1 and Española with a 2-2 record is in third place.

Against Española, the Hilltoppers used their superior height advantage with 5-foot, 11-inch junior Rebecca (Becca) Green and 6-foot Natalie Gallegos to dominate inside. Green had 26 points and Gallegos 10 as the Hilltoppers dominated the boards, scoring on point-blank shots inside and on putbacks. Los Alamos seemed to grab every rebound.

Española led 9-4 in the first quarter because the three-point baskets the Sundevils depend on were falling as Kaylinn Martinez sank a pair and Destiny Valdez another. Once the three-pointers quit falling, the Hilltoppers were able to come back and led 13-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Española never led again. The Hilltoppers had a 32-23 lead by halftime. Los Alamos extended its lead to 52-42 by the end of the third quarter. The Hilltoppers led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter and took their first victory over Española in many years.

Despite the efforts of Martinez, who led all scorers with 29 points, Española simply had no answer for Los Alamos’ inside game.  Española Coach Joe Estrada acknowledged that the Hilltoppers hurt the Sundevils inside, but felt that one key to the game was the play of Los Alamos’ guards, particularly senior Alex Calderon, versus the play of his guards that made the difference. Calderon was consistently able to break Española’s press and bring the ball downcourt. She also contributed 16 points.

Española guards Anita DeAguero, Miranda Salazar and Jasmine Baca combined to score just eight points.

“I never expected just eight points from my guards,” Coach Estrada said.

Combined with the Sundevils 56-53 loss to Pojoaque Jan. 22 at Española, Española is now 2-2  in District 2-4A.

The odds against Los Alamos defeating Pojoaque seemed even longer than those against the Sundevils. The Elkettes had a sparkling 18-3 overall record and were 3-0 in District 2-4A coming into the game.

Los Alamos had made just one three-pointer in the victory over Española, so Pojoaque focused on stopping Green in the paint, double-teaming the big post. The Elkettes were also effective on defense, forcing Los Alamos into 23 turnovers. However, the Hilltoppers showed surprising accuracy from the perimeter. In the first quarter, two three-pointers by Jenee Montoya and another by Rayna Morales helped the Hilltoppers hang with Pojoaque. The score was tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.

Los Alamos led 21-17 in the second quarter after another three-pointer, this one by Gallegos. Pojoaque was able to come back and take a 26-24 lead at halftime.

Three-pointers by Montoya and Gallegos put Los Alamos ahead 30-26 in the third quarter. Pojoaque came back to take the lead 36-34. Los Alamos’ seventh three-pointer, this one by Morales, gave the Hilltoppers a 37-36 lead.

That’s when Pojoaque started to pull away and appeared to take control of the game. The Elkettes created turnovers and got their fast break going. That led to layups and trips to the free-throw line. Pojoaque scored the final eight points of the third quarter to lead 44-37 going into the fourth quarter.

Pojoaque opened the fourth quarter with a 4-1 run to take a 48-38 lead and appeared to be in control with under six minutes left in the game. That’s when Los Alamos turned things around in dramatic fashion.

The Hilltoppers started with a basket by Green. Gallegos scored on a putback and Green added a pair of free throws. When Calderon sank Los Alamos’ eighth three-pointer of the game, the score was 48-47 and the Hilltoppers weren’t done.

Michaela Gonzales put Los Alamos ahead with a basket at 2:16 of the fourth quarter and added a layup on a fast break to give the Hilltoppers a 51-48 lead. Pojoaque appeared to panic a little and started to take hurried shots that didn’t fall while making five turnovers The Hilltoppers put the game away at the free-throw line, sinking 4-of-4 for a 55-48 vicory. Pojoaque did not score a point in the final five minutes of the game as the Hilltoppers finished with a 17-0 run.

Pojoaque is now 3-1 in District 2-4A in second place. The undefeated 4-0 Hilltoppers took over first place.

“Mistakes we made at the beginning of the game started adding up,” Pojoaque Coach Seledon Martinez said. “We’re a better ball-handling team than what we showed in that fourth quarter. We need to come back from this. We have Española again down the road.”

The victories by the Hilltoppers not only throws the race for the District 2-4A title into doubt, it could have consequences later in the season when it comes to selecting teams for the Class 4A stae basketball tournament. Only 16 of the 30 teams in Class 4A will advance to the state tournament.

Because they had a losing record going into district play, Los Alamos is ranked just 18th in the state. The Hilltoppers more than likely will move up in the rankings, while Española could fall from nuber 12 and Pojoaque may slip back from their number 4 ranking. In addition, automatic berths in the state tournament go to the winner of the regular season district race and to the winner of the district tournament that follows the regular season. Also, a team from the same district cannot be seeded ahead regular season district champion. If Los Alamos manages to win the district regular season title, neither Pojoaque nor Española could be seeded ahead of them, despite possibly having a better overall season record.

Pojoaque and Española play Friday (2/8) in a key District 2-4A game at Pojoaque. The pressure is on the Sundevils, who would have an uphill battle if they suffer their third district loss. Moriarty could make it even more interesting if they upset Los Alamos at Moriarty. Both Española and Pojoaque still have to play Los Alamos again, but this time in Los Alamos.

All these possibilities will finally be resolved on the court later this season.

Pojoaque’s Taylor Roybal launches a shot against Los Alamos.

Pojoaque’s Ashten Martinez takes a pass from a teammate against Los Alamos.

Española’s Kaylinn Martinez goes to the basket against Los Alamos. Martinez had 29 points against the Lady Hilltoppers in the Lady Sundevils’ 69-59 loss Feb. 1 at Northern New Mexico College (photo by John McHale).

Española's Jaylyn Padilla (left) and Kianna Duran defend against Los Alamos' Mattie Ruminer (photo by John McHale).

Española's Kaylee Chavez launches a three-pointer against Los Alamos (Photo by John McHale).