Española Beats Sandia 44-43 On Flores’ Jumper.

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Española Beats Sandia 44-43 On Flores’ Jumper.

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Española Valley High School boys basketball team snapped a two-game losing streak in dramatic fashion Feb. 6 at Española. Senior Marcos Flores drove into the lane, stopped and popped a pullup jumper from the lane that fell through the basket with 1.3 seconds remaining in the game to give the Sundevils a 44-43 victory over the Sandia High School Matadors.

“We were looking for a better shot,” Flores said. “I was thinking about taking it to the rack. Coach has been telling me to shoot the jumper. I was okay with the decision. It went in.”

Coming off of two losses in District 2AAAAA competition, the Sundevils had their backs to the wall and did some soul-searching before facing Sandia.

“We told each other we need to step it up or we’re not going anywhere,” Flores said.

The Matadors were a tough opponent. Class 6A Sandia was 5-0 District 2AAAAAA and were led by 6-foot, 9-inch Caleb Wroten.

“To hold a 6A team down like that, we all did our part and came out with a “W”,” Flores said.

The Sundevils were stingy in the first quarter, holding Sandia to just nine points while putting 14 on the board. J. P. Sena had six of those points. Española was even stingier in the second quarter, allowing just seven points to take a 23-16 lead at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Matadors began to look for Wroten inside, where he was able to muscle his way to the basket and score in the paint. At the same time, Sandia stepped up its defense and started to force turnovers. Wroten had four baskets, while Eric Sandlin and Santi Aguilar converted steals into four more points. At 4:18 of the third quarter, the Matadors took a 28-27 lead.

Española came back to take a 31-30 lead after Azaziah Salazar’s basket. Those would be the last points that the Sundevils would score in the third quarter. Wroten continued to punish the Sundevils in the paint. He completed an old-fashioned, three-point play, then followed with a putback of his own miss to give Sandia a 35-31 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Wroten scored 13 points in the third quarter.

Sandia extended its lead to 39-31 after another Wroten basket. The Matadors went into a spread and passed up open shots, running time off the clock, but they failed to score while Española started chipping away at the Matadors’ lead.

Salazar scored inside. After several minutes of passing the ball around looking for a three-pointer, the Sundevils finally got a good look and Damian Serrano drained a trey to make the score 39-36. On Española’s next possession, Sandia was so focused on defending the perimeter that Justino Rascon was able to sneak behind the defense under the basket. The Sundevils got him the ball and he sank an easy shot to draw the Sundevils within a point of the Matadors.

After a free throw by Wroten made the score 40-38, the Sundevils missed a shot and Sandia grabbed the rebound. Flores saved the day by stealing a pass and going in for a layup that tied the score 40-40 with 1:50 left in the game.

With 59 seconds left in the game, Wroten got the ball in the paint and scored while being fouled. He sank the free throw to give Sandia a 45-40 lead.

The Sundevils missed a shot and the ball was batted around inside before Salazar came up with it and scored to make it a one-point game. With 14 seconds left in the game, Española fouled Sandia’s Kobe Smith. He went to the free-throw line to shoot a one-and-one.

Smith barely drew iron, hitting the front of the rim on his first attempt. Española grabbed the rebound. Out of time outs, the Sundevils quickly got the ball downcourt. That’s when Flores made his game-winning basket, pulling up from eight feet away and hitting nothing but net to give the Sundevils the victory.

“Players like Marcos come along once in a long, long time,” Española Coach Richard Martinez said. “His effort empowers everybody.”

Although the New Mexico Activities Association MaxPreps website somehow got the score reversed, giving the win to Sandia Sunday, it was Española’s 15th victory of the season against seven losses. More importantly, it snapped a two-game losing streak and should give the Sundevils some momentum heading into the second round of District 2AAAAA play. Española faces Del Norte High School Tuesday (2/9) in Albuquerque. The Sundevils defeated the Knights 70-56 Jan. 23 at Española in the first district game between the two teams. Española is 2-2 in District 2AAAAA.