By George Morse
The Espanola Valley High School boys basketball team took care of business and defeated Moriarty High School 56-45 in a District 2-4A game Feb. 18 at Espanola. The Sundevils defended their home court and set up a showdown Saturday with Taos High School at Espanola with the District 2-4A regular season title on the line.
“It was a grind it out win,” Espanola Coach Gabe Martinez said.
The Pintos weren’t pushovers. Moriarty took an early 6-2 lead before Espanola used one of its favorite weapons to take the lead. Juan Branch and Marin Rodriguez sandwiched three-pointers around a basket by Jon Garcia to give Espanola a 10-6 lead. The Sundevils would never trail again, although they could never quite put away Moriarty. Espanola led 17-12 at the end of the first quarter.
The two teams were battling back-and-forth in the second quarter. The turning point came with the Sundevils holding a 28-20 lead with less than a minute left. Jordan Duda nailed a three-pointer and drew a foul. He made the free throw for a rare four-point play. Anthony Law then stole a pass and sank a layup on Moriarty’s ensuing possession to giveEspanola a 34-20 lead at halftime.
It looked like Espanola was about to blowout the Pintos when Garcia nailed a three-pointer after taking a kickout pass from the lane. That gave Espanola its biggest lead 37-20 of the game to start the third quarter.
The Sundevils’ shots stopped falling for a while and Moriarty was able to chip away at the lead. The Pintos’ Cayden Dunn scored nine points in the third quarter. Dunn’s three-pointer cut Espanola’s lead down to single digits 44-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Espanola took away Moriarty’s momentum with a 9-3 run to start the fourth quarter. Andray Pana hit a three-pointer. Garcia followed with an old-fashioned, three-point play and Garrett May’s three-pointer put Espanola back in the driver’s seat 53-39 and all but sealed the Pintos’ fate.
Moriarty had just five players score and three of them were in double digits. Tyler Ortiz had 15 points. Julian Encinias scored 14 points and Dunn 11 points for the Pintos.
In contrast, nine players put points in the scorebook for the Sundevils. Garcia had 14 points and Pana finished with 11 points. Six different players sank three-pointers for the Sundevils. Coach Martinez used a total of 11 players during the game.
“I felt like we needed a spark here and there,” Coach Martinez said. “I wanted some fresh legs defensively.”
Espanola improved to 6-1 in District 2-4A. Their only loss was to Taos 58-51 Feb. 6 at Taos. The Tigers were upset by Pojoaque Valley High School 47-45 Feb. 11 at Taos for their lone district loss. In the showdown on Saturday, the winner will claim the regular season District 2-4A championship and the automatic trip to the Class 4A state basketball tournament that title earns. The winner will also get to host the District 2-4A tournament championship game.
“The guys are excited about it,” Coach Martinez said. “They’re pumped up and ready to play.”