Lady Sundevils Take Tournament Championship

Espanola’s Alexis Lovato eyes the basket against Aztec. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Lady Sundevils Take Tournament Championship

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Espanola Valley High School Lady Sundevils knocked out three Class 5A rivals on their way to the championship of the Al Armendariz basketball tournament hosted by Capital High School in Santa Fe. The Lady Sundevils improved to 4-1 on the season.

“On our side of the bracket we had some good competition,” Espanola Coach Cindy Roybal said. “That helped us.”

The championship game against host Capital turned out to be the easiest victory for the Lady Sundevils. A 22-0 run in the first quarter put Espanola firmly in control of the game and the Lady Sundevils cruised to a 58-27 victory.

The Lady Jaguars had taken a 4-1 lead early in the first quarter with 6:50 left. That’s when the Lady Sundevils started their run. Point guard Leah DeAguero buried back-to-back three-pointers to put Espanola ahead to stay. Capital committed nine turnovers and the Lady Sundevils converted them into breakaway layups or uncontested shots from the perimeter. DeAguero lit up the scoreboard for 13 points and post Alexis Lovato added seven more. Espanola led 23-4 at the end of the first quarter.

Capital closed to within 14 points of Espanola 28-14 in the second quarter. Lovato went 3-of-4 from the free-throw line to give Espanola a 31-14 lead at halftime.

“We need to develop a killer instinct and maintain it,” Coach Roybal said. “We had them wounded and it was time to slash their throats.”

Espanola’s Leah DeAguero brings the ball downcourt against Capital. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

DeAguero buried two more three-pointers in the third quarter and the Lady Sundevils held the Lady Jaguars to just four points. The Sundevils extended their lead to 25 points and led 43-18 going into the fourth quarter.

DeAguero nailed two more three-pointers to start the fourth quarter. She finished the game with 28 points to lead all scorers, including going 7-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc. Lovato added 20 points for Espanola. Both were selected to the all-tournament team.

Espanola had knocked off Roswell Goddard High School 56-49 Dec. 1 in the opening round of the tournament. Despite early foul trouble that sent Lovato to the bench in the first quarter, Espanola built a 28-15 lead at halftime and led 40-26 heading into the fourth quarter. The Lady Rockets fought back and scored 21 fourth-quarter points. Espanola withstood the challenge by going to Lovato in the paint. She scored 10 of her game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter and the Lady Sundevils held off Goddard for the victory.

Espanola’s Alexis Lovato drives in to the basket against Capital. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Espanola advanced to the semifinals to face Aztec High School. Despite leading most of the way, the Lady Sundevils were never able to put away the Lady Tigers. Aztec got into early foul trouble in the first quarter and Espanola was already shooting one-and one free throws before the first quarter ended. Espanola failed to take full advantage from the charity stripe, sinking just 3-of-9 attempts. The Sundevils led 16-10 at the end of the first quarter. Lovato sank 6-of-8 from the line in the second quarter and the Lady Sundevils led 24-17 at halftime.

An old-fashioned, three-point play by Lovato gave Espanola a 34-19 lead in the third quarter. Aztec fought back behind the scoring of Myra McCaskill. She scored Aztec’s last five points of the third quarter to make the score 36-26 in favor of Espanola heading into the fourth quarter.

McCaskill was still a thorn in the side of the Lady Sundevils in the fourth quarter. Her basket with 6:30 left in the game cut Espanola’s lead to 38-31.

Coach Roybal had the Lady Sundevils spread the floor and let point guard DeAguero go to work. She scored Espanola’s next seven points. Her old-fashioned, three-point play gave the Sundevils a comfortable 45-33 lead with less than two minutes left in the game. DeAguero finished with 17 points, with 10 of them coming in the fourth quarter. Lovato led all scorers with 23 points and Espanola pulled away to a 50-36 victory to advance to the championship game.

Espanola will face more good competition at the Rio Rancho tournament Dec. 8 at Rio Rancho. The Lady Sundevils play a tough Class 6A Las Cruces High School team that was a state semifinalist last season.