Sundevils Defeat Bengals 66-60 In Opener

Espanola’s Christian Fernandez drives to the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Defeat Bengals 66-60 In Opener

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Espanola Valley High School Sundevils scored the first 18 points of the fourth quarter,seizing control of what had been a close game and defeating the Gallup High School Bengals 66-60 in Espanola’s opening game of the boys basketball season Nov. 25 at Espanola.

After eight months of controversy over the firing, rehiring and an investigation by the state Public Education Department of Coach Richard Martinez, the Sundevils started their season without Coach Martinez on the sideline. Eric Martinez, Coach Richard Martinez’s brother, was on the sideline.

Coach Richard Martinez has been at the helm of Espanola for 14 years. He led the Sundevils to their first state basketball championship in 2011 in Class 4A and brought a second championship back to the Valley in Class 5A in March, defeating Capital High School 36-34 in the Class 5A state championship game.

In keeping with a familiar refrain from administrators and Espanola Schools Superintendent Eric Martinez (no relation to Coach Martinez or his brother Eric), players and coaches had no comments on the game against Gallup.

“I have nothing to say,” interim coach Eric Martinez said after the game.

Espanola’s Azaziah Salazar shoots underneath the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Gallup led 6-5 in the first quarter when the Sundevils caught fire. Fueled by a four-point play by Isaiah Vigil, who was fouled while sinking a three-pointer, Espanola outscored the Bengals 12-3  to take a 17-9 lead at the end of the first quarter after a putback basket by JP Sena.

Espanola built a 27-15 lead in the second quarter after another three-pointer by Vigil and an old-fashioned, three-point play by Christian Fernandez. The lead was 30-20 and could have remained at double digits had not the Sundevils struggled at the free-throw line. Espanola hit just 5-of-12 charity tosses in the first half, allowing Gallup to close to 31-24 by halftime.

Espanola’s Shorty Arellano drives to the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Bengals slowly chipped away at Espanola’s lead in the third quarter. After James Archuleta’s three-point play gave the Sundevils a 36-26 lead, Gallup put together a 10-2 run that  ended with a three-pointer by Cyrus John the Bengals were within two points. Gallup could have tied the game, but Zackari

Fields missed two free throws.

Espanola was leading 43-38 when baskets by Fields and Tyrell Begay narrowed the lead down to a single point 43-42. A 10-second call on Fernandez gave Gallup possession near the end of the third quarter. The Bengals had a chance to take the lead and would have done so had not Seth Manuelito’s three-pointer rattled in-and-out at the buzzer.

The close call lit a fire under the Sundevils, who came out smoking in the fourth quarter. Fueled by strong drives to the basket by Fernandez and Sena, the Sundevils took it to the Bengals. Gallup couldn’t connect on any of its shots from the field for over five minutes and turnovers fueled an 18-0 run by Espanola that put the Sundevils firmly in control of the game with a 61-42 lead.

Espanola’s Christian Fernandez drives to the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Gallup finally scored in the fourth quarter with just 2:36 left in the game. The Bengals tried to make up for lost time, scoring 18 points in the time remaining, but the hole they had dug themselves into was too deep and Espanola held on for a 66-60 victory.

Sena led Espanola with 16 points and Fernandez added 15 points for the Sundevils. Vigil finished with 13 points, including four three-pointers in the first half. The Sundevils were shaky at the free-throw line, sinking just 16-of-31 from the charity stripe. Espanola was accurate from the field, sinking 23-of 42 shots, but committed 20 turnovers.

The Sundevils host Navajo Prep Dec. 1 in their next game.