The offense fed off the defense, and Brian Martinez and Ryan Trujillo fed off each other when they needed to most.
On a night where first place in District 2-4A was up for grabs, the Española Valley High School boys basketball team rose to the occasion to defeat Taos High School, 74-59, Feb. 7 at Edward Medina Gymnasium.
The Sundevils (13-8) used a game-high 29 points from Trujillo and 24 points from fellow captain Martinez, all fueled by a defensive effort that forced the Tigers (14-7) into 17 second half turnovers and 25 for the game.
“That was the key to the victory, just us getting back on transition defense,” Española head coach James Branch said. “That guy (Abdul Khweis) was really good in the open floor, so I was just trying to get back on transition defense to limit his possessions and his ability to get to the basket and we were focused on just getting back.”
Khweis put down 17 points for the Tigers and Husam Khweis added 10, but that duo was no match for Trujillo and Martinez.
“That’s just chemistry between us that you can’t coach,” Martinez said. “We’ve been playing with each other for as long as I can remember.”
The game was as even-keeled as it gets, as the score was 15-14 in Española’s favor after a quarter of play and tied 31 all at halftime.
Abdul Khweis tried his best to keep the trend going after converting a three-point play with 16.9 seconds left in the third quarter to tie things at 45, but Martinez answered with one of his three 3-pointers of the quarter — sinking the third at the buzzer to give the Sundevils a 48-45 advantage heading into the final eight minutes.
Española forced seven turnovers in the fourth quarter to follow up the 10 they were responsible for in the third, and ran away from Taos, 26-14, in the fourth quarter.
With 2:50 remaining in the game, Trujillo streaked toward the sideline to pick off a Taos pass and ran the other way to lay in two points to increase the Sundevils’ lead to 65-57. Jon Garcia put back a miss on the next possession to stretch the lead to 10 points, and Taos was all but finished after Abdul Khweis airballed a free throw attempt with 1:59 left on the next possession.
“We had a mindset that once we came into districts, we weren’t going to lose a game,” Martinez said. “Once we keep that mindset, we prove it and we proved it again tonight.”
Branch said he always wants everyone to step up in a collective effort, but noted that Martinez’s performance helped put them over the top.
“Brian knocked down a couple of big shots there (in the second half),” Branch said. “From Ryan, we expect it. That’s the expectation — it’s the expectation from everybody — but Brian really stepped up. The guys really love to roll with that: getting the defense going and hitting a couple of shots.”
Española lost center Justino Rascon to a shoulder injury with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter. It was the same shoulder that sidelined him last season.
The court inside Edward Medina Gymnasium has had the stamp of “Del Valdez Court” since the beginning of the school year, but Española officially honored the 60-year-plus Española School District employee, teacher and coach prior to tipoff.
Delfino “Del” Valdez taught math and physical education for the District since 1962 before his retirement in 2015, but at 85 years old, he still substitutes three times a week at Española Middle School.