Sundevils Smother The Sartans In State Quarterfinals

by Staff Reporter / Mar 12, 2018 / comments
Española’s Martin Gracia drives for the basket against St. Pius X. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Valley Daily Post 2018 State Tournament Coverage is brought to you in partnership with KDCE Radio Sundevils Smother The Sartans In State Quarterfinals

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

 

The game was essentially over after the first half of the Española Valley High School Sundevils matchup against St. Pius X High School in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A state basketball tournament March 7 at the Pit in Albuquerque. Racing out to an 18-3 lead in the first quarter, Española led 39-20 at halftime and cruised to a 61-41 victory to advance to the semifinals.

Española’s Zach Manzanares tosses a pass to a teammate against St. Pius X High School. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Still, there was cause to worry. Española senior guard Isaiah Vigil was sitting at the end of the bench with an ice pack on his ankle and tears in his eyes after rolling his ankle in a scramble for the ball near the Sartans’ basket. That and a three-minute scoring drought to start the third quarter were on Española Coach James Branch’s mind after the game.

“It doesn’t look good,” Coach Branch, referring to Vigil’s injury, said.

Española had started the game with a 6-0 run before St. Pius scored   on a free throw. Perhaps a little upset they’d finally given up a point, the Sundevils rattled off a run of 10 unanswered points that ended with back-to-back three-pointers by Martin Gracia. The  Sartans did not have an answer to Española’s defense and struggled to score. The Sundevils’ Christian Fernandez was having no such troubles on offense, taking his defender to the basket and completing back-to-back, old-fashioned, three-point plays to give Española a 24-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Española’s JP Sena goes for the basket against St.Pius X High School. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

The Sundevils kept pouring it on in the second quarter and led 39-20 at halftime.

The scoring drought in the third quarter didn’t hurt the Sundevils too much. St. Pius could not take advantage of the opportunity, scoring just two points to make the score 39-22 when Coach Branch called a timeout.

“Did I call a timeout,” Branch said. “Was it a 2-0 run and I finally called a timeout. I try to save all of them for the end of the game and it was a 2-0 run that got me going.”

Coach Branch laughed after the comment. The Sundevils had suffered a similar scoring drought in the third quarter of their opening-round game against Valencia High School March 3 at Española and still took a 68-51 victory.

Española’s AZ Salazar shoots for the basket against St. Pius X High School in the Class 5A quarterfinals. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Once the Sundevils got going again, they extended their lead to 25 points 51-26 after a three-pointer by Gracia. Española led 51-29 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Española emptied its bench and cruised to a 61-41 victory.

“We have two games left,” Coach Branch said. “We need to have some energy left for the next two.”

Española advanced to the semifinals, where they would face the Artesia High School Bulldogs. Artesia had defeated Española’s District 2-5A rival Capital High School 65-63 in another quarterfinal game. Artesia is better known for its championship football teams than for its basketball teams. With Vigil possibly sidelined for the game, Coach Branch was not taking the Bulldogs lightly.

“They’re a good ball club, solid,” he said. “We’ll have to play a good game to beat them.”