Sundevils Beat Belen, Lose To Rio Rancho To End 15-Game Winning Streak

DSC_3000 cover
Española’s AZ Salazar goes up against two Belen defenders. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Beat Belen, Lose To Rio Rancho To End 15-Game Winning Streak

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The best start in school history by an Española Valley High School basketball team came to an end Jan. 13 at Rio Rancho High School. The host Class 6A Rams avenged an earlier 72-54 loss Dec. 29 to the Sundevils with an 86-71 victory.

Española had extended its unbeaten streak to 15-0 to start the season with a convincing 73-47 victory over the then fifth-ranked Eagles of Belen High School Jan. 9 at Española. The Sundevils got off to an uncharacteristic fast start, outscoring the Eagles 20-13 in the first quarter. Zach Mascarenas and Ryan Trujillo each had eight points for the Sundevils. Belen came back with a 12-3 run to get within a point of the Sundevils. Española answered with a 7-0 run finished off by an old-fashioned, three-point play by Cameron Martinez. A basket by Trujillo gave Española a 32-24 lead at halftime.

Española’s Ryan Trujillo drives to the basket against the Belen Eagles. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

In the third quarter, Belen cut the lead down to three points after a basket by Ryan Garcia and a three-pointer by Garret Gallegos. Española started to pull away after that and led by 10 points 44-34 at the end of the third quarter.

A sweet assist from Trujillo to a wide-open Martinez under the basket began the fourth quarter for Española. Belen couldn’t do anything right. The Eagles missed five straight free throws and continually turned the ball over. The Sundevils hit 15-of-18 free throws in the fourth quarter. Mascarenas and Martinez hit three-pointers. Española outscored the Eagles 27-13 in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 26-point victory.

The Sundevils usually spread the scoring among as many as 10 players during their games, but against Belen only six players put points in the scoreboard. Mascarenas led the way with 26 points, including 9-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter. Trujillo added 22 points for the Sundevils.

Española was without strong forward J. P. Sena, who had strep throat. Post AZ Salazar played and scored four points. He is slowly coming back to form after suffering from the same affliction as Sena.

The defense was amazing,” Española Coach James Branch said. “They really responded.”

Trujillo ran the point with poise and patience.

“Mostly patience,” he said. “It’s essential to keep our composure.”

Against Rio Rancho, the Sundevils came out strong and established a 16-8 lead in the first quarter. The Sundevils were having trouble controlling Rio Rancho’s Derrick Reyes and Keshawn Banks inside and were getting beaten on the boards. The Rams rebounded and led 23-19 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Española got to within two points of the Rams 25-27, but couldn’t catch up and trailed 38-31 at halftime. With AZ Salazar and J. P. Sena in foul trouble, the Sundevils were being beaten up inside by Reyes and Banks. Rio Rancho had second and third shot opportunities with 18 rebounds off the offensive glass. The Rams led 38-31 at halftime.

Española has been able to come out after halftime and play a strong third quarter in a number of their victories this season, including the last time they played Rio Rancho. In that game, Española overcame a 38-29 lead by the Rams to take a 51-46 lead by the end of the third quarter.

Could the Sundevils pull off another third-quarter rally in their second meeting with Rio Rancho?

After falling behind 42-33 in the third quarter, Española made a run in the third quarter and caught the Rams. With 3:19 left in the third quarter, a steal and layup by Isaiah Vigil tied the score at 44-44.

The two teams traded baskets until the score was tied 50-50. The Rams then hit their final three shots of the third quarter to take a 56-51 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Rio Rancho stayed hot and Kenny Noland hit a three-pointer to give the Rams a 59-51 lead. After baskets by Reyes and Noland, the Rams led 63-54 when Rio Rancho put together the run that would give them some separation.

After a basket by David Patterson, the Rams’ Isaiah Chavez was fouled by Vigil. Vigil threw up his arms and was called for a technical foul. Chavez made a free throw, Patterson followed with two more free throws on the technical foul. A basket by Chavez on the ensuing possession finished off a 7-0 run that gave Rio Rancho a 70-54 lead.

That proved to be too much for the Sundevils to overcome. Despite the efforts of Española’s Christian Fernandez, who scored a game-high 25 points, the Sundevils never got closer than eight points to the Rams.

Española’s Christian Fernandez tries to control the ball against Belen. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Vigil’s three-pointer with 1:15 left in the game made the score 77-69. Rio Rancho finished the game with a 9-2 run, hitting their last four free throws to secure the win.

The Sundevils fell to 15-1 on the season. Española opens play in District 2-5A Wednesday (1/17) facing the Albuquerque Academy Chargers in Albuquerque.

 Photo from above expanded out, Española’s AZ Salazar goes up against two Belen defenders. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post