By George Morse
Espanola Valley High School learned a lesson that coaches always preach to their teams. In district play, never take your opponent for granted no matter what their record is. Take it one game at a time. Defend your home court because everyone is looking to steal a game on the road.
The Sundevils came away with a 67-55 victory over the Los Alamos High School Hilltoppers Jan. 28 at Espanola. The Hilltoppers went toe-to-toe with Espanola in the first half. Despite a 3-14 record coming into the game, Los Alamos was giving the Sundevils all they could handle. The Hilltoppers scored the game’s first seven points for a quick 7-0 lead. Los Alamos was coming up with turnovers and hitting three-pointers.
Espanola used some long-range accuracy to come back. Jordan Duda nailed a pair of three-pointers and Garrett May added another as the Sundevils took a 15-10 lead. Using the same thing that had given them the early lead, the Hilltoppers answered with a three-pointer by Gavin Campos, followed by a steal and layup by Brian Irwin to tie the score. May gave the lead back to Espanola. A three-pointer by Elijah Ortiz tied the score. A conventional tw0-point basket gave Espanola a 20-18 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the shots from the outside stopped falling for the Sundevils. Espanola switched tactics and began to look inside. Ollie Fell scored on a nice lob inside after sneaking under the basket from the wing ,then had a nice tipin. Malaki Jones had a layup on another nice feed and Espanola had a 28-23 lead.
The surprising Hilltoppers answered with a 7-0 run. Los Alamos went into the locker room at halftime holding a 30-28 lead. Espanola scored just eight points in the second quarter as their perimeter shots stopped falling.
“They (Los Alamos) played a good first half,” Espanola Coach Gabe Martinez said. “”I’m happy with the way we played in the second half.”
Los Alamos’ lead didn’t last long. A basket by Juan Branch tied the score and another three-pointer by Duda completed a 7-0 run by Espanola that gave the Sundevils a 35-30 lead. The Espanola offense began to click, Los Alamos missed a lot of shots and the Sundevils started to create turnovers. Fell once again made an impact inside when he entered the game. After missing most of the early season with a broken arm, he uses his height inside (6 feet, 3 inches) to give the Sundevils another dimension.
“He (Fell) brings a nice dynamic to the team with his aggressive play on offense and on defense,” Coach Martinez said. “He’s another piece of the puzzle.”
Espanola started to pull away and there seemed to be little the Hilltoppers could do about it. Duda canned a couple more three-pointers. A basket by Fell gave the Sundevils their first double-digit lead 45-35 and Espanola led 51-39 at the end of the third quarter. The Hilltoppers managed just nine points while Espanola poured in 23 in that decisive third quarter.
“Offensive execution and patience once we got a lead,” Coach Martinez said. “You have to make good reads, especially against a zone defense.”
When Branch started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer and Anthony Law followed with a pair of free throws, Espanola had a 56-39 lead. That was is biggest of the game. After that, it became a matter of taking care of business from the free-throw line. The Sundevils canned 7-of-8 from the free-throw line and their lead never dropped below 10 points. Espanola improved to 3-0 in District 2-4A with a 67-55 victory.
May led Espanola with 17 points. Duda finished with 13 points. Jon Garcia scored 12 points for the Sundevils. Fell had nine points
Matt Owen had 12 points for Los Alamos. Harrison Frank and Ortiz each scored 11 points for the Hilltoppers.
Espanola plays Taos High School Feb. 6 at Taos in its next District 2-4A game.