By George Morse
Despite a slow start and spirited competition from Pojoaque Valley High School, Espanola Valley High School did what it needed to do and defeated the Elkettes 55-52 Feb. 7 at Espanola.
You have to defend your home court in district competition. Espanola had already lost to Pojoaque in their District 2-4A opener 54-45 Jan. 21 at Pojoaque. Another loss to Pojoaque would have put the Lady Sundevils behind the eight ball and Pojoaque in the driver’s seat in the district standings.
It was all Pojoaque at the start of the game. The Elkettes came out on fire and took it to the Sundevils. Despite the absence of starter Hennessie Calabaza, Pojoaque jumped out to a 9-0 lead after Anissa Herrera’s three-pointer. Espanola started to chip away at the lead. A three-pointer by Destiny Valdez made the score 9-4. After an old-fashioned three-point play by Ashten Martinez, Kiana Duran answered a three-point play of her own for Espanola. Duran would sink two more baskets in the paint to make the score 14-11 in favor of Pojoaque. Jasmine Valdez scored for the Elkettes. Valdez’s big sister plays for Espanola. Destiny Valdez canned a three-pointer to make the score 16-14 at the end of the first quarter.
After fighting their way back in to the game, the Sundevils kept their run going and surged ahead in the second quarter. Anita DeAguero canned a three-pointer. Jasmine Baca scored on a layup and Miranda Salazar sank a three-pointer. When the dust finally settled, the Sundevils had put together a 16-1 run and now had a 27-17 lead. Pojoaque was now the team that was fighting to come back. Point guard Michaela Martinez, who had spent some time on the bench after picking up her second foul, helped close the gap before halftime. Her basket after a Sundevils’ turnover cut Espanola’s lead in half 29-24 at the end of the second quarter.
The Elkettes were making steady progress cutting into the lead in the third quarter. A pair of baskets by Tonni Aguino cut Espanola’s lead down to a single point 33-32 before the Sundevils’ Salazar began an aerial assault.
Salazar drained long three-pointer from the top of the key and then knocked down another from the win. After a basket by Duran, Salazar’s third three-pointer of the third quarter dropped through the net to give Espanola another 10-point lead 44-34 just before the end of the third quarter. Espanola took an eight-point lead 44-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Espanola’s strategy was to run a motion offense and pass the ball around the perimeter, protecting their lead, running time off the clock and hopefully getting a good shot. They were doing that when action abruptly stopped and a technical foul was called on Espanola Coach joe Estrada. Michaela Martinez drained two free throws on the technical and then promptly canned two more after drawing a foul. Espanola’s lead was now cut in half. After a basket by Aguino the Elkettes were back to within three points 45-42 of the Sundevils.
Espanola stuck with its strategy and their next possession paid dividends. Salazar was able to drive down the lane and bank in a layup. On Pojoaque’s next possession, Espanola came up with the ball after a scramble for it. A long pass downcourt to Baca , who was all alone, resulted in another two points and a seven-point lead for Espanola.
Herrera, who had spent long minutes on the bench after turning an ankle in the third quarter, came in and hit a three-pointer for Pojoaque, making the score 49-45 in favor of Espanola.
Still stubbornly sticking to running down the clock, Espanola next two possessions did exactly what the Sundevils wanted them to do. The Sundevils took time off the clock and came away with a good shot off a dribble-drive penetration. Both times Duran was the recipient of a pass for a layup. Espanola’s lead was now 53-45. More importantly, time was running out on Pojoaque.
The Elkettes got a basket from Aguino, but she missed a free throw. After an Espanola turnover, Madison Gonzalez banged in a three-pointer with 28.5 seconds left in the game. The Sundevils were clinging to a 53-50 lead.
On Espanola’s next possession, another turnover led to a layup by Michaela Martinez, cutting Espanola’s lead to one point. There was still enough time left on the clock for a quick foul by the Elkettes to give them one last shot.
On an inbounds play, Destiny Valdez wound up with the ball and somehow was able to elude the Elkettes long enough that just .2 seconds remained when she was fouled. She calmly sank both free throws and Pojoaque’s desperation full-court heave was nowhere close to the basket. Espanola had hung on for a 55-52 victory.
Salazar led Espanola with 18 points, including four three-pointers. Duran had 13 points for Espanola.
“I’m just so proud of her (Duran),” Coach Estrada said.
Aguino had 12 points for Pojoaque. Michaela Martinez and Ashten Martinez each had 11 points for the Elkettes.
Espanola and Pojoaque are now tied for first place in District 2-4A. Both are 4-1 in district play.
“We live to fight another day,” Pojoaque Coach Seledon Martinez said. “They’re good (Espanola). We’re good too. We still have a lot of work to do.”