Knights Knock Off Sundevils

by Editor / Mar 13, 2019 / 0 comments

Knights Knock Off Sundevils

By George Morse

There’s something about Española Valley High School’s Edward Medina Gym when it’s packed to near capacity with Española ’s dedicated fans. The electrifying atmosphere inspires the home team to play their hearts out. Lately, however, it seems to be inspiring the visiting teams as well. Just a week ago, Taos High School shot the lights out against the Sundevils and won the District 2-4A tournament championship game 86-83 March 1 at Española .

A week later, it was the Del Norte High School Knights who came to town March 9 for an opening-round game of the 2019 Class 4A state basketball tournament. The Knights were no strangers to Española . Up until this season, they had competed against the Sundevils as members of District 2-5A. In 2017, Del Norte had upset the Sundevils in the opening round of the Class 5A state tournament. Now a member of District 5-4A, the Knights had competed against the likes of second-seeded Hope Christian High School, seventh-seeded Valley High School, 10th-seeded Highland High School and 13th-seeded Bernalillo High School. For the 12th-seeded Knights, facing fifth-seeded Española  was not intimidating.

So despite an incredible performance by Española  point guard Ryan Trujillo, who scored 42 points in his final performance in front of his home-town fans, it was Del Norte who ended the Sundevils’ season with an 81-74 victory.

“They came out more fired up than we did,” Trujillo said. “”I gave it all I had. It wasn’t enough. It’s been a hell of a ride and it would have been nice to go out with a blue (state championship trophy). Still, it’s been amazing and I wouldn’t change anything these last four years.”

Española  started the game well, with Española ’s Luis Molina canning a three-pointer to start the scoring. Del Norte was leading 8-6 when Christian Aizpuro sank a three-pointer to give Española  the lead. The two teams battled back-and-forth. It soon became apparent that the Knights had plenty of weapons in their arsenal as six different players contributed to their scoring. Guard Malik Barton was able to drive to the basket, while forward Matt Antonio scored six points. The Knights led 18-15 at the end of the first quarter.

It was Trujillo’s show through most of the second quarter as he scored six unanswered points to give Española  a 21-18 lead. Del Norte came back to tie the score 23-23 when Trujillo ran off another 6-0 run that gave the Sundevils a 29-23 lead. The Knights continued to show more balance in their offense, as once again six different players scored.  Trujillo was able to drive to the basket for layups or stop his dribble for pullup jumpers, but he was doing it alone. He scored 16 points and his final basket of the second quarter gave Española  a 32-30 lead. A basket by Del Norte’s Bryant Brock tied the game 32-32 and that was the score at halftime.

The third quarter was a disaster for the Sundevils. Antonio scored seven straight points, sandwiching two baskets around a three-pointer. Barton finished off the 9-0 run by the Knights before Española  got on the board in the third quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers by Chris Coche and Johnathan Wilkins finished off a 17-3 run by Del Norte that gave the Knights a 49-35 lead. Del Norte was firmly in control of the game.

Española  tried to come back with three-pointers by Brian Martinez and Trujillo. The Knights answered with back-to-back three-pointers by Jordan Neilsen. By the end of the third quarter, Del Norte had put 30 points on the board to Española ’s 20 and the Knights led 62-52 going into the fourth quarter.

A basket by Martinez cut Del Norte’s lead to eight points and briefly raised hopes of an Española  rally. Neilsen put the lead back up to double digits with another three-pointer. The Knights began to milk the clock on their possessions and took their time before looking to score. Every time the Sundevils sliced the lead to under 10 points, Del Norte would answer. With one minute left in the game, the lead was still 10 points 75-65 by Del Norte.

The Knights seemed content to let Trujillo weave his way through them for layups in the final minute of the game. Trujillo scored Española ’s final nine points. Del Norte put the game away from the free-throw line, going 6-for-6 in the final 30.8 seconds to secure the victory.

Neilsen led Del Norte with 20 points. Barton and Antonio each scored 17 points for the Knights. Martinez added 11 points for the Sundevils.

Española  finished the season 17-10.

“They were more battle-tested than we were,” Española  Coach James Branch said. “You can’t get away with much this time of year and there’s very little margin for error. That third quarter was the difference.”

Coach Branch singled out Trujillo as he praised his team.

“He (Trujillo) is a great player but an even greater person of very high character,” Coach Branch said. “He’ll be successful at whatever he does, as a bunch of them will.”






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