Sundevils Grab Fifth Seed Despite Loss to Taos

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Española's Ryan Trujillo drives and goes up for a shot against Taos' Noah Armijo. Trujillo scored 37 points, but Taos won the District 2-4A tournament championship game March 1 at Española (photo by Roman Martinez Jr.)

Sundevils Grab Fifth Seed Despite Loss to Taos

By George Morse

Española Valley High School had beaten Taos High School twice in regular season District 2-4A competition and hosted the District 2-4A tournament championship game March I at Edward Medina Gym in Española. Lo and behold , they were facing the Tigers again. They say it’s hard to beat a team three times and that proved to be the case in this game. Taos came away with an action-packed 86-83 victory that thrilled the big crowd of fans from both schools. Despite an eye-popping 37 points by Española point guard Ryan Trujillo, Taos won the District 2-4A tournament.

The Tigers did it by putting on an incredible display of offensive firepower to start the game. Taos sank 13 of its first 16 shots. In the first quarter, the Tigers were leading 10-6 and then nailed four straight three-pointers. Española was hardly shooting blanks itself, as Christian Aizpuro answered with three three-pointers, but Taos took a 22-12 lead. Española’s Ryan Trujillo added another three-pointer to make the score 22-15. Taos answered with a 9-0 run that gave the Tigers a 31-15 lead by the end of the first quarter.

The Tigers cooled down just a little bit in the second quarter, allowing Española to make a dent in the Tigers lead. They did it by pouring in points from the perimeter. Two three-pointers by Jordan Duda, two more by Luis Molina and another by Lorenzo Roybal helped the Sundevils slice the Tigers’ lead down to a more manageable 47-38 by halftime.

The two teams punched and counter-punched in the third quarter. Española cut the lead down to as little as five points 54-49 after a Brian Martinez three-pointer. Taos would answer and by the end of the third quarter each team had scored 16 more points and Taos led 63-54 going into the fourth quarter.

Trujillo was unstoppable in the fourth quarter, putting on an incredible show. Time and again he drove through the defense for a layup. He scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. After Taos started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer by Derek Chacon, Trujillo keyed a 9-2 run by the Sundevils, scoring seven points before a steal and layup by Duda made the score 68-63 in favor of Taos.

All game long brothers Abdul Khweis and Husam Khweis had been a thorn in the side of the Sundevils. They stuck Española again leading a 7-0 run that Abdul started with a basket and Husam finished off with a three-pointer that gave Taos a 77-65 lead. Trujillo and Jon Garcia brought the Sundevils back, keying an 8-0 run that made the score 77-73 in Taos’ favor.

Justin Madrid made a free throw for the tigers. He missed his second attempt, but Chacon rebounded the miss and scored to make the score 82-75. Trujillo sank two free throws. Madrid answered with a score. Trujillo came right back with a layup and Abdul Khweis answered. It was like two heavyweights slugging it out before the final bell with less than two minutes left in the game.

Trujillo scored to make the score 84-79 with less than minute left. After Taos missed two free throws, Trujillo was called for a charge on his next frantic drive through the Tigers. With 34.9 seconds left Taos turned the ball over and Trujillo sliced through the defense for another layup that made the score 84-81 with 24.8 seconds left

After a Taos free throw, Trujillo crashed through the defense one more time to make the score 85-83 with 14.3 seconds to play. After Abdul Khweis sank one of his two free throws, Española needed a three-pointer to tie the game with 11.7 seconds left.

The ball ended up in the corner in who else but Trujillo’s hands. Despite being swarmed by a trio of Taos defenders, he managed to get his shot of through a wall of arms. It hit the rim, then the backboard and then bounced away off the rim. The Tigers had hung on for the victory.

Taos Coach Hernando Chavez knew that despite his team’s hot start, they would need every one of those points if they were going to defeat Española in the Sundevils’ house.

“We were really locked in with our focus and concentration,” Chavez said. “We knew we would have to play absolutely our best basketball if we were going to weather the storm.”

Taos had a balanced attack and five Tigers scored in double figures. Chacon and Madrid each scored 20 points. Abdul Khweis had 17 points and Husam Khweis scored 15 points. Noah Armijo added 12 points for the Tigers.

After Trujillo’s 37 points, only Aizpuro finished in double figures, scoring 10 points. The Sundevils sank nine three-pointers. The Sundevils were 20-of-25 from the free-throw line

Taos also had nine three-pointers. The Tigers did not shine at the free-throw line, sinking just 7-of-20 shots.

“Taos played a hell of a game,” Trujillo said. “They sure wanted us. Tonight, they were hungry.”

Española Coach James Branch felt his team may have benefitted from the loss.

“I’m proud of the comeback,” Branch said. “This was a reality check and gave us a big dose of adversity. I’d rather feel this way tonight than feel this way next Saturday.”

Next Saturday (3/9) will be the opening round of the State Basketball Tournament. Although Taos did move up in the rankings to ninth, it was not enough to earn the Tigers a home game in the opening round. Taos will face eighth-seeded Valencia High School Saturday in Los Lunas.

The Sundevils are seeded fifth. Española does not have an easy game in the opening round, where they will host Del Norte High School from Albuquerque Saturday. Del Norte upset Española in the opening round of state in 2017. The Knights are 14-13 on the season and were 5-5 in District 6-4A. That District was tough top to bottom, with five teams advancing to the state basketball tournament (only Taos and Española were selected from District 2-4A). The Knights will be battle-tested.

Expect a gym packed to the rafters Saturday as Española’s legendary fan support will likely show up in force.

“There’s nothing like the Española Nation,” Branch said.

Española's Luis Molina launches a three-pointer against Taos. He had a pair of three-pointers in  the second quarter (photo by Roman Martinez Jr.)

​Despite two Taos defenders, Española's Ryan  Trujillo gets his shot off and scores two of his 37 points (photo by Roman Martinez Jr.)

​Española's Christian Aizpuro shoots a three-pointer against Taos. Aizpuro had three three-pointers in the first quarter.