Escalante High School girls basketball coach Isaac Royston said his team wasn’t all too familiar playing with the lead.
In what has been a tough all-around season, there was a big exception on the road Feb. 14 at Mesa Vista High School, as the Lady Lobos (7-14) put together one of their best performances of the season to run away from the Lady Trojans (8-13) for a 52-23 win inside Mesa Vista Gymnasium.
Escalante led by as many as 31 points and trailed just once, only falling behind 2-1 in the first quarter. They used a strong post presence from senior Aubriana Hinds (nine points) and freshman Kalese Torrez, who tallied a game-high 16 points while shooting a near-perfect 8-of-9 from the free throw line.
“Were not used to playing with the lead like that, so sometimes it can be tough for the girls to keep their focus when we’re not used to it,” Royston said. “But, top to bottom, we actually played a full four quarters, but what I was most impressed with, was our defense.”
After gaining an 8-5 advantage after the first quarter, the Lady Lobos defense picked up the pressure in what was a chippy and physical game between the District 5-2A rivals. The stifling effort held Mesa Vista to four points apiece in the second and third quarters and often gave the Lady Trojans fits in just crossing the half-court line.
“We really came to play on defense,” Torrez said. “We also ran through our offense a lot better than we usually do and we worked well as a team tonight. On our press, we kept pressure on the ball, kept trapping and just came with a lot of pressure.”
With the defense in full-effect, the Lady Lobos’ offense began to heat up in the second quarter. Mesa Vista head coach Bobby Romero called a quick timeout after Escalante began the quarter on a quick 4-0 run, but his effort to calm his team was to no avail.
The Lady Lobos rolled to a 14-2 run — highlighted by a 3-pointer from Val Valdez from the left wing to extend the lead to 19-7 — before the Lady Trojans’ Anna Pena finally scored Mesa Vista’s first bucket from the field in the quarter with 1:07 remaining.
“It was just one of those nights,” Romero said. “We couldn’t get anything to drop or couldn’t buy a bucket. We come out and play a couple good games in-a-row and then play a bad one, and a lot of that still comes with our inexperience.”
Leading 24-9 at halftime, Escalante increased it’s advantage to 36-13 after the third quarter and added 16 more points in the fourth, while Mesa Vista scored 10 points in the final eight minutes to finally eclipse single-digits for one quarter of play.
“Offensively, there for a while during the season, our biggest problem was one pass, shot,” Royston said. “I was telling them, ‘We need to start working the ball around and try to get the ball in the post, because our post players are pretty good.”
Eighth-grader Emma Maestas and Valdez both chipped in seven points, Mia Terrazas had six (all in the second quarter) and Kyla Redwine provided five.
The win gave Escalante their third in four tries and moved them to 4-3 in the district as of that night.
“Tonight, we trusted each other a lot more and things came easier,” Torrez said. “Usually (in past games), we’ll be up by six or eight and we just break down, but tonight we kept pushing and we knew we had to because this was an important game for us to win.”
In no big surprise, the Lady Lobos dropped their Feb. 16 matchup against district-leading Peñasco, who once again powered past their competition with a 75-34 win. Escalante finishes off the regular season with two road games, beginning Thursday (2/21) at Mora High School and concluding Saturday at Coronado High School.