By George Morse
In what was the fourth episode of the Espanola Valley High School versus Pojoaque Valley High Schoolgirls basketball series, the Lady Sundevils followed a familiar script to win their ninth game in a row and third win against the Elkettes with a 57-51 victory in the District 2-4A tournament championship game Feb. 28 at Espanola.
The Sundevils spotted up behind the three-point arc and drained eight three-pointers in the first three quarters. In the fourth quarter with the lead, Espanola switched to a perimeter passing offense that circled around before finding a weak spot where they could penetrate the defense with a dribble-and-drive. Drawing the defense to the driver, they would then dish off to post Kiana Duran, who would end up with a point-blank shot at a layup.
Duran had 14 points in the fourth quarter as the strategy worked to perfection.
“When we’re hitting our shots, we’re hard to stop,” Espanola Coach Joe Estrada said. “Then we can go to the dribble-drive. We’re peaking at the right time.”
The game started slowly in the first quarter. Espanola managed a pair of three-pointers, one by Destiny Valdez and another by Christianna Sandoval to take an 8-5 lead. Pojoaque countered inside with posts Tonni Aguino and Ashten Martinez, who scored in the paint to give the Elkettes a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Espanola came back to take a 16-15 lead after a pair of free throws by Sandoval. Pojoaque point guard Michaela Martinez answered with a pair of free throws and a three-pointer to give the Elkettes a 20-16 lead. After a free-throw by Jaylynn Padilla, Valdez nailed back-to-back three-pointers that gave Espanola a 23-20 lead at halftime.
It was bombs away for the Sundevils in the third quarter. Senior Erika Medina started the barrage with a three-pointer. After Pojoaque had cut Espanola’s lead to 28-26, Anita DeAguero nailed the first of three three-pointers she would sink that would give the Sundevils a 37-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
After Jasmine Baca scored on a driving layup, the Sundevils went to that dribble-and-drive offense that had worked so well in previous games against Pojoaque. Duran had eight of her 14 points as the Sundevils opened up a 48-37 lead. Pojoaque bounced back to make the score 51-47 after a pair of three-pointers and two free throws by Anissa Herrera.
The Elkettes still couldn’t stop the dribble-drive penetrations by the Sundevils. A pair of free throws by Valdez made the score 55-51 with 1:20 left in the game. Duran scored the final two of her 14 fourth-quarter points and Pojoaque never scored again.
“It’s just a start,” Valdez said. “I feel we can go far at state. I’ve progressed as a shooter. We can pop out for the three and that leaves our big girls open. We have great posts.”
Duran, who had eight fourth-quarter points in Espanola’s 64-60 victory over Pojoaque Feb. 24 in a district playoff game at Los Alamos.
“It’s all a matter of timing,” Duran said. “I have confidence and can feel the connection. I get the look I know to focus on the backboard.”
Despite their 3-1 record over the Elkettes in head-to-head competition and the fact that they won the District 2-4A championship when they defeated Pojoaque in the playoff game in Los Alamos, the New Mexico Activities Association ruled that since the two teams were tied for first place at the end of the regular season, the seeding of teams for the Class 4A state basketball tournament would be decided using other criteria. Espanola has been ranked below Pojoaque all season long in the MaxPreps polls, which is one of the criteria.
Using the other criteria, Pojoaque finished ahead of the Sundevils and received the fifth seed. The Elkettes will face 12th-seeded Lovington Friday in the opening round of the state tournament at Pojoaque.
Espanola received the eighth seed and will play ninth-seeded Bloomfield High School Friday at Espanola.