By George Morse
The Pojoaque Valley High School boys basketball team is headed in the right direction after winning the championship game of their own Ben Lujan Memorial tournament with a 72-61 victory over the Santa Fe Indian School Braves Dec. 21 at Pojoaque. The Elks had defeated Crownpoint High School 70-20 in the opening round of the tournament and dispatched Monte del Sol Charter School in the semifinals before meeting a stiffer challenge in Indian School.
It was the fourth win in a row for Elks. Pojoaque had some tough losses earlier in the season and was just 3-6 coming into the tournament. The Elks had suffered a three-point loss to Gallup High School Dec. 3 at Pojoaque. Sandia Prep had beaten Pojoaque 63-62 on a buzzer-beater Dec. 6 at Sandia Prep. Belen High School had scored at the buzzer for a 39-37 victory Dec. 12 at Belen.
Pojoaque finally pulled out a close game Dec. 14 at the Hub City Invitational tournament at Belen, beating Mayfield High School 56-54 to snap a five-game losing streak.
“We kinda needed that (win over Mayfield),” Pojoaque Coach Thomas Vigil said. “Twice we lost at the buzzer. We played hard enough to win, not smart enough to win. Tonight, we played smart enough to win.”
Pojoaque came strong in the first quarter, spreading the wealth in the scorebook as seven different players scored for Pojoaque. The Elks took a 21-11 lead at one point and were ahead 21-13 going into the second quarter.
The Braves were battling back in the second quarter. Two three-pointers and a basket by Virgil Valencia made the score 26-21 in favor of the Elks. Pojoaque answered with a pair of three-pointers by Dante Ortiz to build the lead back to 35-24. The Braves came back with a 6-0 run and after a basket by DeBrylan Candelario the Elks lead was just five points once again.
Leading 35-30, Pojoaque picked up its defense and found some offense behind Andrew Garcia and Diego Martinez. Garcia had six points and Martinez four in an 11-1 run by the elks that gave Pojoaque a 46-31 lead at halftime
The Elks were threatening to pull away throughout the third quarter and would have had it not been for Canderlario, who poured in 14 points. He couldn’t overcome the depth of the Elks, who had six different players put points in the scorebook. Pojoaque’s lead never dropped to less than double digits and the Elks led 61-51 heading into the fourth quarter.
It was in the fourth quarter that the Elks showed how much they have grown as a team. Instead of taking quick shots or jacking up three-pointers, Pojoaque patiently worked a motion offense around the perimeter that forced the Braves to foul. Pojoaque put the game away from the free-throw line, canning nine in a row in the fourth quarter. The Braves never got closer than 11 points after a basket by Noah De la Cruz gave Pojoaque a 63-51 lead. The Elks took a 72-61 victory.
“We played really, really smart in the fourth quarter,” Coach Vigil said. “A total team effort.”
The Elks had four players score in double figures. Garcia had 14 points and De la Cruz finished with 13 points. Ortiz finished with 11 points, as did Sean Aragon, who scored in every quarter.
Candelario finished with a game-high 23 points for the Braves. Valencia had 13 points.
Pojoaque takes a long holiday break before returning to action against Artesia High School Jan. 10 at Pojoaque. Coach Vigil is hoping that Pojoaque can maintain the positive progress it finished with in 2019.
“The mental and psychological part of the game is so great,” Coach Vigil said. “Anybody who plays sports knows when you’re in a slump, it’s a mental one, not a physical one. You get world-class athletes who suddenly can’t hit a fastball, it’s mental. Most of our obstacles have been mental.”