By George Morse
Lady Sundevils Win St. Michael’s Tournament
The Espanola Valley Girls basketball team used a big fourth quarter to pull away from the St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen and win the championship game of the St. Michael’s Invitational basketball tournament 44-28 Dec. 27 in Santa Fe.
“We had an attack the basket mentality,” Espanola Coach Joe Estrada said. ”You have to be willing to attack the basket. When you do that, good things happen.”
Leading 30-26 at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Sundevils worked their perimeter passing offense that often ends when they shoot a three-pointer. Now, Espanola passed up the long-range assault and kept looking for an opportunity to drive to the basket. Those opportunities began to open up.
Kiana Duran started it with a little close-in jumper. Rhianna Padilla then shot a baseline jumper. It came up short, but she alertly followed her shot, grabbed the rebound and scored on the put-back. Destiny Valdez then scored on a driving layup for a 6-0 run that gave the Sundevils a 36-26 lead.
Meanwhile, St. Michael’s was having trouble scoring. Rachael Morgan sank a pair of free throws that would be the only points the Lady Horsemen would score in the fourth quarter.
Espanola kept up its interior attack, with Anita DeAguero driving to the basket and then dishing off to Jaylynn Padilla for a pair of easy buckets. Freshman Kaitlyn Thomas finished the fourth quarter with a pair of baskets in the paint. Espanola outscored St. Michael’s 14-2 in the fourth quarter for a 44-28 victory. All of Espanola’s points came from shots close to the basket.
“We have to have an inside game,” Coach Estrada said.
Jaylynn Padilla comes in off the bench for the Sundevils and had nine points. A lot of her baskets come on assists from DeAguero on the “pick-and-roll” play.
“We work well together,” Padilla said. “Mainly, my game is inside. That’s what I do best.”
It was the outside that got the Sundevils rolling at the start of the game. Valdez fired in three three-pointers in the first quarter to help Espanola take a lead in the first quarter. St. Michael’s stayed close to the Sundevils and the score at halftime was 20-19 with Espanola in front.
Valdez, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, had not scored in Espanola’s 47-45 victory over Pecos High School in the semifinals.
“Yesterday was rough for me,” Valdez said. “It felt good to hit big shots like that.”
St. Michael’s actually took the lead 23-20 in the third quarter on a pair of baskets Carisa Padilla. A three-pointer by Miranda Salazar tied the score. A free throw by Jasmine Baca gave Espanola a 24-23 lead. The Sundevils never trailed again.
To reach the championship game, Espanola had to survive a grueling Friday schedule. The unusual format had each team in the tournament playing two games on the same day. Espanola won their morning matchup 37-30 against Santa Fe High School. The Sundevils’ next game was against Pecos High School in the semifinals Friday afternoon. Pecos, defending Class 2A state champions, gave the Class 4A Sundevils all they could handle before Espanola managed to hang on for a 47-45, double-overtime victory Dec. 27 to advance to the championship.
The game was back-and forth in the first half with the Sundevils holding a 20-18 lead. It looked like Espanola had taken control of the game in the third quarter. Behind six points by Jasmine Baca, the Sundevils put together a 10-0 run thanks to turnovers leading to easy baskets.
Trailing 30-18, Pecos came roaring back behind Trinity Herrera. She scored six of the final eight points of the third quarter to make the score 30-26 heading into the fourth quarter. Herrera banged in a three-pointer to finish off an 11-0 run by the Lady Panthers that made the score 30-29 before a basket by Duran temporarily stopped the bleeding.
“We turned the ball over and didn’t play smart,” Coach Medina said.
Duran added an old-fashioned, three-point play to make the score 35-31 in favor of the Sundevils. Pecos came right back and tied the score 35-35 on a basket and two free throws by Herrera. A pair of free throws by Alexis Gonzales gave Pecos a 37-35 lead with 1:25 left in regulation. Both teams missed opportunities to score. A three-pointer by Gonzales that could have put Pecos in the driver’s seat failed to fall. With 11 seconds left to play, Baca drove down the lane and banged in a runner off the glass that tied the score at 37-37, sending the game into overtime.
In the first overtime, a three-pointer by Herrera gave Pecos a 41-39 lead. With 1:03 left, Jaylynn Padilla sank two clutch free throws to tie the score. Both teams could not score again in the final minute of the first overtime and the game entered a second overtime.
Senior Erika Medina came in off the bench for Espanola, providing a spark in the second overtime. Her short jumper in the lane gave the Sundevils a 43-41 lead. After Pecos missed four free throws, Medina had another basket to put Espanola ahead 45-41. Medina scored all six of her points in overtime.
Pecos cut the lead to 45-43 with a couple of minutes left. Espanola patiently executed a passing offense and ran time of the clock looking for the shot they wanted. With 39 seconds left in the game, they got it when DeAguero drove to the basket, then dished off to Duran for an easy two points and a 47-43 lead. Duran led the Sundevils with 15 points
“I’ve been playing with her (DeAguero) since like the second grade,” Duran said. “We help each other.”
Gonzales scored to make the score 47-45, but the Panthers could not score again. Espanola had survived and advanced to the championship.
“Pecos, they got after us,” Coach Medina said. “This will serve us well. An opportunity to learn and grow. The season is a marathon.”
Espanola will have an opportunity for further learning and growing against the best in the state. Defending Class 4A state champion Los Lunas High School comes to Espanola Saturday (1/4) to test the Sundevils.