Española Girls Beat Aztec, Headed To The Pit

Espanola’s Leah DeAguero fires up a three-pointer against Aztec in the Lady Sundevils’ 35-30 victory in the opening round of the Class 5A state basketball tournament Feb
Española's Leah DeAguero fires up a three-pointer against Aztec in the Lady Sundevils’ 35-30 victory in the opening round of the Class 5A state basketball tournament Feb. 3 at Espanola. 

Española Girls Beat Aztec, Headed To The Pit

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Española Valley High School girls basketball team had their fans on the edge of their seats against the Aztec High School Lady Tigers in the opening round game of the Class 5A state basketball tournament March 3 at Española.

With less than a minute left in the game and the score tied 30-30, the Sundevils had been patiently working the ball around the perimeter. It seemed at times that there were shots they could have taken or drives they could have made, but each time Española passed up the shot and passed the ball some more.

Finally, point guard Leah DeAguero had the look she wanted. DeAguero nailed a three-pointer from over 20 feet away to give the Lady Sundevils a 33-30 lead. On Aztec’s ensuing possession, Española trapped the Lady tigers’ Myra McCaskill in the corner and Española’s Annalynn Martinez took the ball away. DeAguero was fouled with 3.3 seconds left to play and she drained both free throws to ice Española’s 35-30 victory.

“We were looking for an open shot,” DeAguero said. “Kaylee (Chavez) made a dribble penetration and then set a screen. I had an open look because my teammates set me up.”

DeAguero was the one getting the open looks and she made the most of them. Aztec used a stifling 2-3 zone defense to shut down Española post Alexis Lovato. Española was frustrated again and again as they tried to get the ball in to Lovato in the paint. In the first quarter, Española only managed a pair of three-pointers, one by Chavez and the other by DeAguero. Aztec took a 7-6 lead on a pair of free throws by Jesse Gellentine.

The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second quarter. Fortunately, the Lady Tigers were also having trouble putting the ball in the basket. A free throw by Martinez gave the Sundevils a 12-11 lead. Aztec missed a chance to take the lead when McCaskill went 0-of-4 from the free-throw line. Lovato was scoreless in the first half and the Lady Sundevils clung to a one-point lead at halftime.

“We weren’t doing our offense,” Española Coach Cindy Roybal said. “We were just passing it, a little picks.”

It looked like Española was finally finding its offense to start the third quarter. Lovato got on the board with a pair of free throws and Martinez nailed a three-pointer from the wing to give the Lady Sundevils a 17-11 lead.

Things took a turn in the other direction and Aztec took control. Makayla McCaskill nailed back-to-back three-pointers and Grace Olson drained another to give the Lady Tigers a 20-17 lead.

“Talk about luck,” Coach Roybal said. “They threw it from Aztec with their eyes closed and banked it in twice in a row.”

After a putback basket by Reigan Weaver, Aztec took a 24-19 lead. Desperately trying to score as time ran out in the third quarter, DeAguero launched a prayer from beyond the arc and banked in a three-pointer to make the score 24-22 heading into the fourth quarter.

“That was a hallelujah,” DeAguero said.

A pair of free throws by Myra McCaskill gave Aztec a 26-22 lead. Lovato scored and then added a free throw to make the score 26-25. A free throw by Weaver added a point to the Lady Tigers’ lead. At 5:05 of the fourth quarter, DeAguero hammered home a three-pointer that gave the Lady Sundevils a 28-27 lead. A basket by Lovato made the score 30-27.

Another three-pointer by Makayla McCaskill tied the score 30-30 with two minutes left in the game. That set the stage for DeAguero.

DeAguero led the Lady Sundevils with 16 points and was the only double-digit scorer for either team. Martinez, who has played a bigger role on the team late in the season, added eight points at key moments to go with her steal that led to DeAguero’s game-clinching free throws.

‘It’s time to step it up,” Martinez said. “I really enjoy playing with these girls.”

Española advances to the Class 5A state quarterfinals where they will meet a familiar foe in Gallup High School Tuesday (3/7) at The Pit in Albuquerque. For the past three seasons, the Lady Sundevils and the Lady Bengals have squared off at The Pit in the Class 5A state tournament. Each time Gallup has won and ended Española’s season.

Española defeated Gallup 74-66 Jan. 10 during the regular season. This time the stage will be bigger when the two teams meet again.

“They’re fired up,” Coach Roybal said. “We want them at The Pit where it really counts.”