Sundevils Topple Hilltoppers

Uriah Arrelano scores against Los Alamos in the Hilltopper gym. Photo by Roman Martinez for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Topple Hilltoppers

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Española Valley High School boys basketball team have not lost a district game to the Los Alamos High School Hilltoppers since 2012. That doesn’t mean that Española  Coach Richard Martinez takes the Hilltoppers lightly.     “They’ll battle you to the very end,” Coach Martinez said. “With our depth, we kept the pressure on them the entire game.”

That pressure helped the Sundevils overcome a hot start by Los Alamos and halt any attempt at a comeback by the Hilltoppers for an 80-70 victory Jan. 26 at Los Alamos.

“We got off to a slow start,” Española senior guard Uriah Arellano said. “We got the defense together and turned it around.”

The Hilltoppers came out strong to start the game, getting an old-fashioned, three-point play from Antonio Trujillo and forcing turnovers on Española ’s first two possessions. Los Alamos took a 10-5 lead. The Sundevils answered with a 7-2 run that started with a three-pointer by James Archuleta and ended with a steal and layup by Arellano. That tied the score 12-12.

The Hilltoppers came back with an 8-0 run that began and ended with baskets by Jack Stewart, giving Los Alamos a 20-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Española came flying out of the gate to start the second quarter and quickly erased Los Alamos’ lead. Española forced turnovers that led to layups and canned their outside shots during a 14-2 run. Elias Archuleta had a three-pointer and James Archuleta added another to give the Sundevils a 26-22 lead.

Los Alamos answered with a 7-2 spurt to take back the lead 30-28 lead. Senior Marcos Flores sandwiched two basket on mid-range jumpers around a breakaway layup by Arellano to put Española  back in front by four points. Los Alamos never led again.

“I got on Marcos to shoot that mid-range jumper,” Coach Martinez said.

Stewart canned a three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half and could have tied the game with a free throw, but missed the charity shot and Los Alamos trailed by a point 34-33 at the end of the first half.

The Sundevils started to pull away in the third quarter as Española ’s relentless pressure started to pay dividends. Creating turnovers and forcing the Hilltoppers to play at a fast pace, the Sundevils began to score in transition. Most often the beneficiary of the turnovers was Arellano, who consistently beat the Hilltoppers down the court for fast-break layups.

“I use my speed to get behind the defense,” Arellano said. “My teammates do a real good job of throwing me the ball and I finish at the rim.”

The Sundevils led 54-42 after a pair of free throws by Flores. Los Alamos cut the lead to nine points before the Sundevils’ Isaiah Vigil dropped a three-pointer through the basket at the buzzer to give Española  a 57-45 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the worn out Hilltoppers couldn’t catch the Sundevils, who made a march to the free-throw line, sinking 14-of-20 attempts to take Española ’s biggest lead of the game 75-60.

Coach Martinez shuffled his lineup and wanted his bench to close out the game, but it led to several turnovers and the Hilltoppers managed to cut Española ’s lead to seven points 75-68 after two free throws by Stewart with almost a minute left to play.

Coach Richard R. Martinez at Tuesday’s game. Photo by Roman Martinez for the Valley Daily Post.

“I’m a little disappointed we weren’t able to put them away,” Coach Martinez said.

He inserted his seniors Flores and Arellano back into the game. They shut the door on the Hilltoppers, scoring Española ’s last five points for an 80-70 victory.

“When both of us (Flores and Arellano) play really well, we can take over the game,” Arellano said. 

Flores scored 25 points to lead the Sundevils and Arellano finished with 21 points. James Archuleta scored 10 points for Española . Stewart had 24 points for the Hilltoppers.

Española  improved to 2-0 in District 2AAAAA and 14-5 overall. The Sundevils face Capital High School Friday in a key District 2AAAAA matchup at Española . The Jaguars are ranked third in the state in Class 5A (Española is fifth), but are 2-1 in District 2AAAAA after losing to Bernalillo 51-46 Jan. 23 at Bernalillo. Capital is 18-3 on the season

Coach Martinez is pleased with the way his team has developed. The Sundevils have shown that they can shoot three-pointers, hit their free throws and play solid defense to go along with their depth.

“We’re definitely looking solid,” he said.