Espanola Girls Win District Title Over Academy

EVHS girls pose for a team photo after winning their third consecutive District tournament. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Espanola Girls Win District Title Over Academy

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Espanola Valley High School Lady Sundevils won their third straight District 2-5A tournament championship with a 46-31 victory over Albuquerque Academy Feb. 25 in the championship game of the District 2-5A girls basketball tournament at Espanola.

Known for their stingy defense and ball-control offense, Academy stayed in the game for three quarter and held leads in the second and third quarters before the Lady Sundevils took control in the fourth quarter. Espanola outscored the Lady Chargers 22-9 after finally figuring out how to attack Academy’s defense.

Kaylee Chavez drives in for a layup. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

After Kaylee Chavez hit a three-pointer that gave the Lady Sundevils a 24-22 lead at the end of the third quarter, Espanola spread its offense and looked for openings to drive to the basket. The end result was either a layup or an assist to post Alexis Lovato for a point-blank shot under the basket. Combined with a ball-hawking defense once the Lady Sundevils switched to a man-to-man defense, Espanola scored nearly as many points in the last quarter as they had in the first three quarters.

‘I told them to widen the offense and I didn’t want to see any three-pointers,” Espanola Coach Cindy Roybal said. “We had good dribble-penetration.”

Chavez, a sophomore and the only starter for Espanola who is not a senior, drove to the basket for a layup and foul with the score 26-24 in favor of the Lady Sundevils. She missed her free throw, but Lovato followed with a putback basket for a 30-24 Espanola lead.

Espanola’s Alexis Lovato makes a move in the paint

“Being patient with the ball and waiting for a good shot,” Chavez said. “Looking for whatever lane they gave us.”

After Espanola stole an inbounds pass under their own basket Lovato scored again in the paint. Following another Academy turnover, Leah DeAguero drove in for a layup. Academy turned the ball over again and with 2:14 left in the game DeAguero swished a pair of free throws.

“We were kind of lost on defense until we went man,” DeAguero said. “It opened up for us off the dribble and we were able to penetrate.”

The Lady Chargers turned the ball over once more and Alycia Archibeque ended up with the ball. She was knocked to the floor after a hard foul and her head hit the court with an audible “thump.”

Marina Padilla replaced Archibeque and hit both of her free throws for a 38-26 Espanola lead. The Lady Chargers started to panic and began throwing up three-pointers from all over the court that never went in. Espanola finished the game going 10-for-10 from the free-throw line in the final two minutes for a decisive victory.

“We just didn’t want to lose,” Lovato said.

At the beginning of the game Espanola was on target from the outside, hitting three three-pointers to take an 11-9 lead after the first quarter. In the second quarter, Espanola was still shooting three-pointers. Only now, they weren’t going in. Academy’s Sophie Long had three straight baskets inside and Allie Liggot scored for an 8-0 run by the Lady Chargers that gave Academy a 17-11 lead. Espanola stopped shooting from long distance and began to go inside. DeAguero scored on a layup. Lovato passed to Brenda Garduno for an easy bucket and Lovato scored inside to tie the score 17-17 at halftime.

Espanola was still trying to figure out Academy’s defense in the third quarter and was held scoreless for the first four minutes of the second half. Trailing 20-17, Espanola finally broke the ice on a basket by Annalynn Martinez. Lovato followed with a pair of free throws that gave Espanola a 21-20 lead. Long gave the lead back to the Chargers with a basket. With time running out in the third quarter, Chavez dribbled to the top of the key, took a step back and drained a three-pointer that gave Espanola the lead that they never gave up.

“I was just trying to keep my confidence up,” Chavez said. “I felt I could make it.”

Espanola is 19-6 on the season and is seeded third in the Class 5A girls state basketball tournament. The Lady Sundevils host 14th-seeded Aztec High School in the opening round of the tournament Friday in Espanola.