Pojoaque Valley’s Taylor Roybal covers Española ’s Kaitlyn Romero. Photo by Marcos Herrera
Española Pulls Away From Pojoaque
By George Morse Sports and Outdoors
After falling behind Pojoaque Valley High School by a point 23-24 early in the third quarter, the Española Valley High School girls basketball team went on a 16-3 run to take a 39-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Lady Sundevils pulled away from Pojoaque in the final eight minutes of the game to take a 55-35 victory over their local rival Jan. 17 at Pojoaque.
“We came out and started working harder,” senior guard Kaitlyn Romero said.
Pojoaque had gone toe-to-toe with the Sundevils in the first half. The Elkettes were able to run their offense and find open players cutting to the basket. Justice Ainsworth put Pojoaque ahead 5-2 when she cut through the lane and scored on a layup after a pass from Aaliyah Casados. The two teams battled back and forth, with Española holding a 10-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Two baskets by Alexis Lovato gave the Sundevils a 14-11 lead in the second quarter. Casados had a pair of baskets that tied the score 15-15. An old-fashioned, three-point play by Romero put the Sundevils ahead 18-15. Española led 23-20 at the end of the first half.
Española lost junior point guard Leah DeAguero late in the second quarter when she injured an ankle driving to the basket. She did not return to action and spent the second half on the bench with an ice pack on her ankle.
“She sprained her ankle,” Coach Roybal said. “I think everybody picked it up after she went down.”
Pojoaque started the third quarter strong. Baskets by Kaylee Salazar and Casados put Pojoaque in front 24-23.
“We weren’t matching up properly on defense and sagging too much,” Española Coach Cindy Roybal said.
Española responded by pounding the ball inside to Alexis Lovato. She scored the next six points to put the Sundevils ahead 29-24. The Elkettes never got closer than three points the rest of the game.
Alexis Lovato with a defensive rebound. Photo by Marcos Herrera
“We worked our offense better,” Coach Roybal said. “The defense was what it should have been.”
A pair of free throws by Romero gave Española a 39-27 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t making the extra pass for the open shot,” Romero said. “We started setting goals for ourselves and getting a stop on defense every time.”
Casados hit a three-pointer to cut Española ’s lead to 39-30 in the fourth quarter, but that was as close as the Elkettes would get. Española pulled away. After Romero scored nine straight points that included a 5-for-5 performance from the free-throw line, the Sundevils had surged to a 54-33 lead. The Sundevils finished the game 13-of-16 from the line.
Pojoaque was just 4-of-15 from the charity stripe.
The game got a little chippy in the fourth quarter with some pushing and bumping going on. A brief scuffle broke out as the teams lined up to shake hands after the final whistle.
Lovato led Española with 19 points and Romero finished with 18 points. Casados had an even dozen for Pojoaque. No other Elkette scored more than four points.
“Games aren’t won after 16 minutes,” Pojoaque Coach Seledon Martinez said. “You have to be mentally strong enough to step up to the line. We just couldn’t hit a shot.”
The victory was the 346th of Coach Roybal’s high school coaching career.
Unfortunately for Coach Roybal, she couldn’t add her 347th victory to her resume in Española ’s first game of District 2AAAAA competition Jan. 22 at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque. The Lady Knights shocked the Sundevils with a 36-29 victory. Del Norte held Española to just 17 points through three quarters. Española was without starting point guard DeAguero and just four players scored for the Sundevils. Romero led Española with 14 points.
“I think it was a little fatigue from the night before (against Pojoaque),” Coach Roybal said. “That was a physical game. We started sluggish and by the time we woke up it was too late.”
Although not an excuse, Roybal said the team missed DeAguero’s leadership.
“We didn’t have time to adjust,” Coach Roybal said. “When you’re used to playing with a general like Leah, it’s hard.”
The Sundevils face a stiff challenge Wednesday (1/27) when they face Los Alamos High School at Los Alamos in their next District 2AAAAA game. The Lady Hilltoppers are ranked fourth in Class 5A and is 15-4 on the season.
COACH ROYBAL NOMINATED FOR NATIONAL HALL OF FAME
Española has a lot to be proud of with their girls basketball program, with the announcement that the EVHS girls basketball coach Cindy Roybal has been nominated for induction into the National High School Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. Roybal is one of eight finalists chosen among 244 applicants from across the nation. She was nominated by the New Mexico High Scholl Coaches Association.
“You hear them say at the Academy Awards that it’s an honor just to be considered,” she said. “It’s great to be nominated as one of eight out of 244. It’s a national honor.”