By George Morse
The Espanola Valley High School boys basketball team came down to earth at the Al Armendariz basketball tournament at Capital High School in Santa Fe. Riding a four-game winning streak coming into the tournament, the Sundevils got off to a good start with a 64-38 victory over Santa Fe Indian School Dec. 12 in the opening round of the tournament at Capital High School. In the next two games, the Sundevils were decisively defeated by host Capital High School 67-18 in the semifinals Dec. 13 and by Pecos High School 65-29 Dec. 14 in the third-place game.
Both games were essentially decided by halftime. Capital led 42-4 at halftime, while Pecos led 51-11 at the halftime break. In both games, there was a running clock in the entire second half. The running clock goes into effect when one team takes a lead of 35 points or more. The Jaguars and the Panthers emptied their benches in the second half and gave their players a chance to compete in game situations.
Espanola also used all its players in both losses.
Full-court pressure flustered the Sundevils in both games, setting the tone in the first quarter. The Sundevils had trouble breaking the press and committed turnover after turnover. Shots were hurried and often put up in traffic to be blocked or were off the mark. Espanola had been able to hit three-pointers in previous games. They were not falling against Capital or Pecos.
“Our shooters never caught fire,” Espanola Coach Gabe Martinez said.
Capital led 24-2 at the end of the first quarter. The Sundevils trailed 22-7 at the end of the first quarter against Pecos.
Capital and Espanola are long-time rivals and had many epic battles when both were members of District 2-4A. Perhaps the most memorable was the 2016 Class 5A state championship game where Espanola defeated Capital 36-34 to win its second state championship. In 2018, Capital was moved into a higher classification than the Sundevils, so they are no longer district rivals.
Pecos is a powerhouse in Class 2A and has won three consecutive state boys basketball championships. The Panthers look like they are once again the team to beat in Class 2A.
“It was a rough one,” Coach Martinez said. “Those were two really high-caliber teams.”
Coach Martinez is in his first season at Espanola.
“Yes, we are youthful, yes we are inexperienced but you will get no excuses from us,” he said. “We flat out need to be better. I need to be better, the boys need to be better. We are growing up and learning each and every game. The wins and the losses teach us something and it’s all necessary and part of the process.”
Espanola bounced back against Valencia High School Tuesday night with a 67-50 win at Espanola.