Sundevils Bounce Back, Beat Capital

Espanola’s Azaziah Salazar makes a post move against Capital
Espanola's Azaziah Salazar makes a post move against Capital. Photo by George Morse

Sundevils Bounce Back, Beat Capital

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

It was a game the Espanola Valley High School Sundevils needed to win. After two straight losses in District 2-5A competition, another loss to the Capital High School Jaguars Feb. 11 at Espanola would have given the Sundevils three losses in district play with just two games remaining in the district season. Capital would likely claim the District 2-5A regular season title and the automatic slot in the Class 5A state basketball tournament that goes with it.

The Sundevils took care of business and handed the Jaguars their third defeat in a row by Espanola with a 50-47 victory. With the win, Capital and Espanola are tied for first place in District 2-5A, each with a 4-2 district record. More importantly, should the two teams finish the regular season tied for first place, the Sundevils hold the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Jaguars twice in district play. Espanola beat Capital 40-39 Jan. 25 in Santa Fe.

The Sundevils had defeated Capital 36-34 in the 2016 Class 5A state championship game. At least for now, Espanola seems able to find ways to win against Capital. This time, Espanola did it despite missing power forward James “Tree” Archuleta and three-point shooter Josh Salazar. Both were out with injuries.

”We’re a pretty experienced team,” junior JP Sena said. “We came together. We’ve been here before.”

Christian Fernandez drives against Capitol. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The two teams were feeling each other out in the first quarter. Capital was having trouble sinking their shots, as were the Sundevils. The action was back-and-forth in the first quarter. A nice runner in the lane that Espanola’s Ryan Trujillo banked in before the buzzer tied the score at 10-10 at the end of the first quarter.

A three-pointer by Azaziah Salazar gave the Sundevils a 13-10 lead and Espanola stayed in front except for a 17-17 tie. Espanola put together a 6-0 run that started off with a driving baseline layup by Sena, who added a pair of free throws. Salazar’s basket gave Espanola a 23-17 lead. The Sundevils led 25-19 at halftime.

 Espanola was in control through most of the third quarter. After Capital had whittled the Espanola lead down to 31-28, the Sundevils answered with a five-point run after Christian Fernandez swatted away a shot by Marcos Vargas, who was driving in for a layup after making a steal. Isaiah Vigil, in a shooting slump lately, canned a three-pointer and Espanola led 36-28 after a free throw by Cameron Martinez. The Sundevils led 36-30 heading into the fourth quarter.

Just as they had done in the earlier loss to Espanola, the Jaguars came storming back in the fourth quarter. A basket by Matt Smith with 5:51 left in the game gave Capital a  37-36 lead and a apir of free throws by Tyler Alarid gave finished off a 9-0 run by Capital that gave the Jaguars a three-point lead.

Capital led 45-40, their biggest lead of the game, after a putback basket by Aaron Garcia. That’s when Espanola started to claw its way back.

A pair of free throws by Salazar, followed by another two free throws by Fernandez, cut Capital’s lead to one point. After Alarid was called for traveling, Salazar scored inside to give Espanola a 46-45 lead with 2:10 left in the game.

Garcia missed a very makeable shot that could have tied the game by overshooting the basket off the glass. Espanola spread the floor and Sena drove to the basket from the elbow for a layup to give Espanola a 48-45 lead with 1:15 left in the game.

Smith sank one of his two free throw attempts to make it a two-point game. Sena did the same with 48.7 seconds left to make it a three-point game again. Smith once more sank just one of two charity tosses. With 14.6 seconds left to play, Vigil made it a three-point lead 50-47 one last time with one more free throw.

Capital tried but couldn’t sink the three-pointer that would have tied the game. Two attempts failed to fall and Espanola held on for the win.

The Sundevils are back in the driver’s seat in District 2-5A when it appeared they were ready to crash and burn. Espanola hosted Los Alamos High School Tuesday at Espanola and finishes the regular and District 2-5A season Friday at Del Norte High School. The Hilltoppers dealt Espanola one of its two district losses, while Del Norte is likely looking to avenge a 51-50 loss to the Sundevils Jan. 31 at Espanola. The Sundevils still have work to do.