The Lady Sundevils host the District 2-4A championship tonight against the Pojoaque Elkettes. The Elkettes defeated the Moriarty Pintos Thursday night 72-44. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00pm at Edward Medina Gymnasium in Espanola.
By George Morse
The Espanola Valley High School left the Pojoaque Valley High School Elkettes behind them and locked up the District 2-4A regular season championship with a 64-60 victory Feb. 24 at Los Alamos.
On a neutral court in a playoff game to determine the championship, the Lady Sundevils always seemed to be one step ahead of Pojoaque. The Elkettes chased the Sundevils all over the court as Espanola was able to penetrate with its dribble-and-drive offense while also knocking down open looks from beyond the three-point arc.
“This is a huge win for us,” Espanola Coach Joe Estrada said. “Everybody played well.”
The Sundevils were able to drive down the lane in the first quarter. Espanola took a 10-7 lead on Anita DeAguero’s driving layup that resulted in an old-fashioned, three-point play. Miranda Salazar added a free throw. Jasmine Baca banked in a difficult layup with another drive that gave Espanola a 13-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Sundevils stayed in front throughout the second quarter. Salazar had a pair of layups off drives through the lane. Pojoaque didn’t score until the 4:35 mark. The Elkettes were chipping away at Espanola’s lead and closed to within a point 20-19 of the Sundevils after two free htrows from Tonni Aguino. DeAguero got open in the corner and knocked down a three-pointer. After a basket by Pojoaque’s Michaela Martinez, DeAguero drained another three-pointer from practically the same spot. The Elkettes’ Alicia Sanchez had a basket, making the score 26-23 in favor of the Sundevils at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Sundevils started misfiring from the floor and missed point-blank shots. Pojoaque found something that worked with Martinez finding room to drive down the lane for layups or dish off to a teammate. The Elkettes took a 36-29 lead.
Espanola’s shots started to find their mark. The score was 38-33 in favor of the Elkettes when the Sundevils’ Destiny Valdez sank a three-pointer from the corner to make it 38-36. Pojoaque was now the team that was misfiring. Valdez spotted up in the corner again and nailed another three-pointer to give Espanola a 39-38 lead. Freshman Rhianna Padilla came in off the bench and had a couple of baskets from the baseline. DeAguero’s drive for another score finished off a 16-2 run by the Sundevils that gave Espanola a 45-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Valdez continued her hot hand and her fourth three-pointer gave Espanola 48-39 lead. The score was 50-43 when Erika Medina sank a three-pointer to give Espanola a 53-43 lead. Up by double digits, the Sundevils put the ball into the hands of their backcourt. Running a weaving offense dribbling and passing the ball around until they spotted an opening, the Sundevils were able to drive to the basket before passing off to post Kiana Duran for three easy, point-blank layups. The Sundevils built a 62-48 lead with time starting to run out on the Elkettes. Duran had eight points in the fourth quarter after not scoring in the first three quarters.
With a seemingly comfortable 14-point lead, Espanola gave Coach Estrada some anxious moments and started to miss free throws. With 1:26 left in the game, Pojoaque post Ashten Martinez moved outside and sank a three-pointer. After an Espanola turnover, she nailed another long three-pointer from the same spot. Espanola missed a free throw with 49.3 seconds left, forced a turnover and missed another free throw with 46.6 seconds left. Pojoaque’s Anissa Herrera made two free throws with 27.2 seconds left to make the score 62-58 with Espanola now clinging to a four-point lead. Salazar finally made a free-throw for the Sundevils with 20.8 seconds left, but missed her next one. After Pojoaque missed a shot, Valdez canned another free throw to make the score 64-58 with 9.5 seconds left.
Sanchez scored on a putback at the buzzer to make the score 64-60, but time ran out and Espanola held on for the victory.
“They just played better than what we did,” Pojoaque Coach Seledon Martinez said. “They played like they wanted it more.”
Espanola had contributing players all over their roster, with nine players putting points on the board. Valdez led the Sundevils with 14 points. DeAguero had 11 points.
Miquela Martinez led Pojoaque with 17 points. Ashten Martinez had 15 points for Pojoaque.
Espanola secured a spot among the 16 teams that will compete in the Class 4A state basketball tournament. The Sundevils will host the championship game of the District 2-4A tournament Friday in Espanola. Pojoaque and Espanola are likely headed for another showdown, but the Elkettes must first defeat a tough Moriarty team Thursday in the semifinals at Pojoaque.