Lady Sundevils upset Hornets, Can’t Break Broncos

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Española’s Kaylinn Martinez goes for the basket against Highland High School. The Lady Sundevils upset the fifth-seeded Lady Hornets 54-44 in the quarterfinals of the lass 4A state basketball tournament March 12 at tThe Pit in Albuquerque (photo by Roman Martinez Jr.).

Lady Sundevils Upset Hornets, Can’t Break Broncos

By George Morse

The Española Valley High School Lady Sundevils were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the media interview room despite having just played a basketball game at the early hour of 8 a.m. in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state basketball tournament March 12 at The Pit in Albuquerque. Kaylee Chavez, Anita DeAguero and Destiny Valdez had reason to smile because the 13th-seeded Sundevils had just pulled off a 54-44 upset win over the fifth-seeded Highland High School Lady Hornets at The Pit.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here,” Chavez said.

But here the Sundevils were after their second upset win of the tournament. Española had knocked off District 2-4A champion Pojoaque Valley High School 67-57 March 9 in the opening round of the tournament at Pojoaque. They were moving on to the semifinals March 14, where they would face the Kirtland Central High School Lady Broncos.

Another upset win was not to be, as the second-seeded Broncos were too tough for Española. Kirtland Central kicked butt and defeated Española 55-23 to end Española’s season. The Broncos led 27-12 at halftime.

To pull off the upset against Highland, the Sundevils used timely three-point shooting and a pocket-picking defense against the taller Hornets. All season long Española has relied on the three-point shot and a pressing defense that created turnovers to make up for Española’s lack of height. After matching Highland nearly point for point in a high-scoring first quarter, the Sundevils trailed by just a point 20-19 going into the second quarter thanks to a three-pointer by Destiny Valdez that ended the scoring in the first quarter.

Another Valdez three-pointer tied the score 22-22 in the second quarter Anita DeAguero put the Sundevils ahead with a basket. Kaylinn Martinez put the Sundevils ahead 31-24 and Española led 31-26 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Highland came back and was leading 35-34 when Martinez nailed a three-pointer to give Española a 37-35 lead and the Hornets never led again. Valdez followed with her second three-pointer of the game to push the lead up to 40-35. A basket by Chavez in the final minute of the third quarter gave the Sundevils a 42-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

In the ourth quarter, the score was 44-40 when Valdez sank her third three=pointer of the game. A basket and a free throw by Chavez gave Española a 50-40 lead. The Sundevils held off the Hornets for the final four minutes. A pair of free throws by DeAguero with less than a minute left iced the game for the Sundevils.

Chavez had 17 points. Valdez scored 16 and DeAguero had a dozen for the Sundevils.

The telling statistic for Española was 25 turnovers by the Hornets, who were without leading scorer Callie Crawford. Of those 25 turnovers, 20 were steals by the Sundevils. That made up for a huge advantage on the boards for the Hornets.

“We were going to go after every loose ball,” Chavez said. “We wanted to be the ones who got every 50-50 ball.”

Against Kirtland Central, the shots didn’t fall and it was the Sundevils who were giving the ball away. Española committed 22 turnovers as the Broncos would substitute freely and bring in players three or four at a time to keep the pressure on Española.

“We’re nine strong and we use our depth,” Kirtland Central Coach Devon Manning said. “We don’t get tired.”

Española shot just 22-percent from the floor and sank only four of their 22 three-point attempts.

The Sundevils finished the season 17-12 overall. It was Coach Estrada’s first season at the helm of the Sundevils.

“It took a lot of time in the gym to develop that trust relationship that gave us stability,” he said “They trust me and I definitely trusted them. We still have to keep working because everyone is getting better. It’s not about me anymore, it’s about the kids. They’re special.”

Española's Anita DeAguero dribbles past a Highland defender in the Lady Sundevils' 54-44 victory (photo by Roman Martinez Jr

Española's Jaylyn Padilla fights for the ball with a Kirtland Central defender during Española's loss to the Lady Broncos. Kirtland Central defeated the Sundevil 55-23 in the semifinals of the Class 4A state basketball tournament.