Lady Sundevils Lock Up District 2-5A Title

Leah DeAguero moves the ball downcourt. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post    

Lady Sundevils Lock Up District 2-5A Title

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Espanola Valley High School Lady Sundevils won their third straight District 2-5A regular season championship with a 37-36 victory over Del Norte High School Feb. 18 at Espanola. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.

“Whether it’s by one point or 15 points, it’s still a win,” Espanola Coach Cindy Roybal said. “I think all the excitement of ‘Senior Night’ had them distracted.”

In a pregame ceremony, Espanola honored six seniors who were playing their last regular season home game for the Lady Sundevils. Alycia Archebeque, Leah DeAguero, Brenda Garduno, Alexis Lovato, Annalynn Martinez and Marina Padilla were given flowers, gifts and framed jerseys for their contributions to the team over the years.

Brittney Gardens, Alexis Lovato, Annalynn Martinez, Coach Cindy Royalty. Leah DeAguero (front), Alycia Archibeque, Marina Padilla. Photo by George Morse with the Valley Daily Post
Although Espanola led 10-7 after the first quarter, it seemed like the Lady Sundevils were still remembering the pregame ceremony than focusing on the game. Espanola scored just four points in the second quarter. The determined Lady Knights took advantage of the situation and rattled off 13 points to take a 20-14 lead at halftime.
Alexis Lovato. Photo by George Morse with the Valley Daily Post

Midway through the third quarter the Lady Sundevils woke up and started to play like they’re capable of. Trailing 22-16, Espanola began to work the ball inside. Alexis Lovato scored to start a 7-0 run by the Lady Sundevils that ended with a three-pointer by Kaylee Chavez that gave Espanola a 23-22 lead at 3:54 of the third quarter. The lead seesawed back and forth with Del Norte ahead 26-25 as the third quarter wound down.

Kaylee Chavez. Photo by George Morse with the Valley Daily Post

With Lovato drawing all the attention on the inside, that left Garduno open in the paint. Archibeque penetrated the defense, then dished off to an open Garduno under the basket. She sank a point-blank shot and drew a foul. After sinking the following free throw, Garduno’s old-fashioned, three-point play gave Espanola a 28-26 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Garduno had scored seven points in the pivotal third quarter.

“Brenda (Garduno) played a tremendous game,” Coach Roybal said.

Archibeque nailed a three-pointer from the wing to start the fourth quarter. An old-fashioned, three-point play by Lovato and a pair of free throws by Archibeque finished off an 11-0 run by the Lady Sundevils that gave Espanola a seemingly comfortable 37-26 lead with less than three minutes left in the game. Del Norte had been struggling to score since the third quarter.

That changed abruptly as a basket by Malakah Martinez stopped the bleeding. A free throw by Martinez and a basket by Victoria Casaus, who missed a free throw following her basket, made the score 37-31 with 12 seconds left to play. To compound the problem, Espanola point guard DeAguero picked up her fourth and fifth personal fouls and she went to the bench.

“I never suspected she had five (fouls),” Coach Roybal said. “We tried to give it away.”

Espanola turned the ball over on an inbounds play and Amanda Burks sank a three-pointer to make the score 37-34 with five seconds left to play. The Lady Sundevils turned the ball over again and another three-pointer by the Lady Knights that could have tied the game clanked off the rim. Breana Desoto grabbed the rebound and sank the putback, but that left the Lady Knights one point short 37-36 as time expired.

Despite giving up a 10-0 run at the end of the game, Espanola had hung on by the skin of their teeth for the victory. Lovato led the Lady Sundevils with 15 points.

Espanola will host the championship game of the District 2-5A tournament Saturday in Espanola. The Lady Sundevils are 18-6 on the season and currently ranked fourth in Class 5A.