By George Morse
Espanola Valley High School nailed down a spot among the 16 teams that will compete in the 2020 Class 4A state basketball tournament with a 59-52 victory over Taos High School Feb. 22 at Espanola. The Sundevils won the District 2-4A regular season title with the win, finishing with a 7-1 record. As district champions, Espanola automatically advances to the state tournament.
It was just one more step in learning process for Espanola Coach Gabe Martinez and his players that began when Martinez was hired as the new boys basketball coach May 13 of last year.
“I had to learn about them,” Coach Martinez said. “What I had and what they could do. They had to be willing to learn and work hard. I’m proud of them.”
The Sundevils started the game by taking a 9-2 lead using one of their favorite weapons, the three-point shot.
Jon Garcia started the barrage with a bomb from the top of the key. Jordan Duda followed with two long-range missiles from the right wing. Espanola led 10-4 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Taos started with a 10-2 run that gave the Tigers their first and only lead of the game 14-12 after a basket by Mateo Espinosa with 5:15 left in the first half. The Sundevils responded with an 11-1 run. Duda canned four free throws in four attempts and added his third three-pointer during the run that gave Espanola a 23-15 lead. A three-pointer by Taos’ Edgar Varela made the score 23-18 at halftime.
The Sundevils took control of the game in the third quarter. After Taos had gotten to within a possession 25-22 of Espanola on two baskets by Abdul Khweis, Espanola put together a 10-1 run. Anthony Law and Garrett May had three-pointers and Espanola executed a sweet score by Garcia on an inbounds play to take a 35-23 lead. May had two more three-pointers and Espanola took a 17-point lead 44-27 that was their biggest of the game. Espanola led 44-31 heading into the fourth quarter.
“We came up with stops on defense and executed offensively,” Coach Martinez said.
In the fourth quarter, Espanola hurt itself from the free-throw line, sinking just 7-of-18 attempts. Despite the poor performance, the Sundevils were able to hold off the Tigers and take the victory. May, who had just one point in the first half, finished with 19 points to lead all scorers. Duda finished with 15 points and was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. Law finished with 10 points.
Khweis led Taos with 15 points, but for the most part Espanola kept Taos’ leading scorer in check with a man-to-man defense that cut Khweis off when he tried to go to the basket. He ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter. Varela finished with 14 points and Anthony Padilla had 11 points for the Tigers.
Espanola improved to 17-8 on the season. The Sundevils will host the championship game of the District 2-4A tournament Saturday in Espanola. Taos finished second in the District 2-4A standings with a 6-2 record and will host a semifinal game. Pojoaque Valley High School finished third in District 2-4A with a 4-4 record. The Elks will host a quarterfinal game against the winner of the Los Alamos High School/Moriarty High School game in the opening round of the tournament Monday in Los Alamos.