Pojoaque Shocks the Sundevils

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Pojoaque Shocks the Sundevils

Valley Daily Post

Pojoaque’s Andres Romero guards Espanola’s Azaziah Salazar.  Photos by George Morse\valleydailypost.com


Pojoaque Valley High School and Espanola Valley High School renewed what once was one of the best rivalries in Northern New Mexico Jan. 20 at Edward Medina Gym in Espanola.

In front of a packed house that shook the rafters with their cheers, Pojoaque pulled off an upset of Espanola, the top-ranked team in the state in Class 5A. The game went down to the wire before Pojoaque senior James Garcia sank the game-winner.
With 9.2 seconds left in the game and the score tied 49-49, Garcia took an inbounds pass from teammate Dominic Roybal after an Espanola free throw had tied the score.
“We gave it to James,” Pojoaque Coach Joey Trujillo said. “We trusted him to do something good and he did.”
Garcia drove the length of the court. Hesitating for a moment at the three point-line, he then penetrated past the three-point arc. Leaning to his left, he banked in a 10-foot jumper that gave the Elks a 51-49 victory.
“I wanted the defenders to come out so the middle would open, then I drove in,” Garcia said. “It was a layup.”
In what was a seesaw battle throughout the game, the Elks and the Sundevils traded punches and counter-punches. It was a wild fourth quarter that led to the heart-stopping finish.
With Espanola holding a 32-31 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Sundevils went ahead 34-31 on a basket by Azaziah Salazar. Andres Romero, who had four points up until then, drilled home a three-pointer to tie the score. Christian Fernandez broke the tie with a driving layup for Espanola. Romero hammered down another three-pointer to give the Elks a one-point lead as the Elks did a good job of finding the open man.
“We spread the floor and the kids gave it to him,” Coach Trujillo said.
Pojoaque extended their lead to four points, their biggest of the game, after a free throw by Tevin Flowers and a basket by Roybal. Isaiah Vigil sank two-of-three free throws to make the score 40-38 in favor of Pojoaque. Pojoaque pushed the lead back up to four points when Roybal drove to the basket, then dished to Flowers for an easy two points.
Salazar, who led Espanola with 13 points scored on a sweet post move, then Vigil put Espanola back in front 43-42 with a three-pointer from the corner. A free throw by Fernandez added a point to Espanola’s lead.
Romero was open on the perimeter again and he nailed a three-pointer from the right elbow, giving the lead back to Pojoaque with 2:05 left in the game. On the Elks’ next possession, Romero shook himself free in the left corner, took a cross-court pass from Garcia and nailed his fourth three-pointer of the fourth quarter to give the Elks a 48-44 lead.
”Those three-pointers don’t happen without my teammates passing me the ball,” Romero said. “My teammates trusted me to shoot and they kept giving me the ball.”
Romero’s teammates knew who had the hot hand.
“Every player on the team was looking for Andres (Romero),” Garcia said. “When a guy’s in a rhythm like that, you don’t stop giving him the ball.”
With 1:02 left in the game, Fernandez sank a pair of free throws to make the score 48-46. On Pojoaque’s next two possessions, Flowers went to the free throw line to shoot two free throws. He missed all four of his attempts, the last with 42.8 seconds left to play.
Fernandez drove to the basket for what looked like a game-tying basket. Shaking off the frustration he felt at the free-throw line, Flowers swatted the ball out of the air, denying Fernandez’s shot.
After missing those free throws, he (Flowers) comes up with a huge block,” Coach Trujillo said.
Garcia wound up with the ball and was fouled by Salazar, who fouled out of the game. He joined Espanola’s other big man, James “Tree” Archuleta, on the bench. Archuleta had also fouled out.
Garcia missed his first free throw, then sank his second for a 49-46 Pojoaque lead. On the Sundevils’ possession, Vigil’s three-pointer from the corner was off the mark, but Fernandez came away with the rebound and fed Justino Rascon under the basket for a layup, cutting Pojoaque’s lead to a point.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Fernandez came up with a turnover and was fouled. He had a chance to put the Sundevils in front, but missed his first free throw. He made the second to tie the game at 49-49 with 9.2 seconds left.
That set the stage for Garcia’s dramatic drive to the basket.
The game had been tight throughout. After a tentative first quarter by both teams, Pojoaque held a 7-6 lead. Espanola came out strong to start the second quarter. A basket by Salazar, who did not play in the first quarter, gave Espanola the lead. A Pojoaque turnover led to a basket by Josh Salazar and a score by Leo Pacheco finished off a 6-0 run that gave the Sundevils a 12-7 lead.
With Espanola leading 18-15, Roybal scored the Pojoaque’s next six points to give the Elks a 21-20 lead. Salazar, who had nine points in the second quarter, put the Sundevils ahead 23-21 with an old-fashioned, three-point play. With time running out in the first half,  Pojoaque’s Isaiah Herrera launched a shot-or maybe it was a pass-that seemed destined to be an air ball.
 Roybal snatched the ball while it was in the air and banked in a putback layup at the buzzer that the officials allowed tying the game 23-23 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Espanola was leading 27-23 when a 6-0 run by the Elks put Pojoaque in front 29-27. Espanola came back and led 32-31 after a free throw by J. P. Sena.
Romero led Pojoaque with 16 points, including his four, three-pointers. Roybal and Flowers each had 12 points. Flowers just recently became eligible to play and his presence in the paint makes a difference for Pojoaque.
“He makes us a better ball club,” Coach Trujillo said.
In addition to Salazar’s 13 points, Fernandez had 11 points for Espanola. Espanola falls to 14-4 on the season.
The Sundevils face Capital High School Wednesday for their District 2-5A opener in Santa Fe.
Pojoaque, which appeared to be struggling after losing two-of-three games at their own Ben Lujan tournament and falling to 4-4 overall after a loss Dec. 20 to Class 3A Pecos High School, has been on a roll. Pojoaque has won 8 of its last 10 games for a 12-6 record.
“Teamwork,” Coach Trujillo said. “The kids have each other’s backs on defense and offense.”
The Elks take on rival St. Michael’s High School in a District 2-4A matchup Wednesday in Santa Fe.

James Garcia drives downcourt.  Photos by George Morse\valleydailypost.com