Sundevils Rally To Defeat Demons

by Staff Reporter / Dec 15, 2017 / comments
Española’s Christian Fernandez makes a move on Santa Fe. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Sundevils Rally To Defeat Demons

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Española Valley High School boys basketball coach James Branch has said that defense will be the determining factor in how successful his team is going to be. In the Sundevils home-opener Dec. 12 at Española against the Santa Fe High School Demons, it was Española’s “D” that turned the game around in the second half of a 64-55 victory by the Sundevils, who remain undefeated (5-0) so far this season.

“We pulled a rabbit out of our hat tonight,” Coach Branch said.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Sundevils were clinging to a 41-40 lead. Española had been pressing the entire first half, but had switched to an extended 2-3 zone in the second half. It had helped the Sundevils overcome a 34-28 lead by Santa Fe in the third quarter. Española held the Demons to just six points and scored 13 points to take the lead.

It was in the fourth quarter that the Sundevils took control of the game. A steal at midcourt by Christian Fernandez led to his being fouled going in for a layup. Fernandez sank the first of his two free throws. His second bounced off the front of the rim. The rebound was grabbed by J. P. Sena, who timed his leap perfectly between two defenders. Sena scored on a putback.

Española’s J. P. Sena drives to the basket against Santa Fe. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

“You play every shot like it’s a miss,” Sena Said. “I just ended up getting some lucky bounces.”

Española’s J. P. Sena shoots a jumper against Santa Fe. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post


Azaziah (AZ) Salazar then scored inside and drew a foul. His old-fashioned, three-point play finished off a 6-0 run that gave Española a 47-40 lead.

Santa Fe takes the ball away from Azaziah Salazar. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

After a Santa Fe basket, Salazar blocked a shot. He grabbed the ball and heaved a long pass downcourt to an open Sena, who scored on a layup to make it 50-42 in favor of the Sundevils.

Santa Fe managed to cut the lead to four points 52-48 after back-to-back three-pointers by Victor Salcido and Isaiah Andermann. Española answered with a basket by Ryan Trujillo, a steal and layup by Fernandez and a pair of free throws by Sena to push the lead up to 58-48 with about three minutes left to play.

Española’s Ryan Trujillo eyes the basket against Santa Fe. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Española led by as many as 12 points and controlled the ball to finish out the game with a 64-55 victory. The Sundevils caused six turnovers in the fourth quarter, trapping Santa Fe in the corners and on the side to force bad passes that were picked off by the Sundevils.

“We were struggling with what they were doing,” Salazar said. “We figured we’d try something different. That’s the first time we’ve run (that defense) all year. It worked out pretty good.”

Santa Fe had played a strong first half. The Demons put together an 8-0 run in the first quarter after back-to-back three-pointers by Andermann and a basket by Fredonta White to take an8-2 lead. Santa Fe was able to penetrate Española’s defense, giving the Demons open shots from the perimeter or baskets inside. The score was tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Española led 24-23 when Santa Fe put together a 7-0 run that included a three-pointer by Antonio Lovato and ended with a putback by Stephen Romero Jr. A couple of baskets by Trujillo made the score cut Santa Fe’s lead to four points. Trujillo blocked a shot by Santa Fe at the buzzer to keep the score at 32-28 at halftime.

The Sundevils had been using their pressing Man-to-man defense in the first half. In the locker room at halftime, Española made the switch to the extended 2-3 zone, which is called the “Boeheim 2/3” after Syracuse University Coach Jim Boeheim. After the game, Coach Branch dubbed it “The Swarm.”

“They spread the floor, were able to penetrate and layup, dump to their big guys or kick out for the three,” Coach Branch said. “They were doing a hell of a job. We couldn’t guard them.”

A basket by Lovato gave Santa Fe a 34-28 lead. That’s when the Sundevils new look on defense started to pay dividends. Española put together a 6-0 run that ended with a three-pointer by Martin Gracia. With the score tied 38-38, a three-pointer by Trujillo gave Española a 41-38 lead with less than 30 seconds left in the third quarter. A layup by Andermann made the score 41-40 heading into the decisive fourth quarter.

Española’s Azaziah Salazar loses the ball in traffic. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Salazar led the Sundevils with 18 points and Sena had 15 points. Sena scored 11 points in the second half and Salazar had 10. Trujillo finished with 11 points for the Sundevils.

Española faces Robertson High School Dec. 19 in Las Vegas