Española takes advantage of Crawford's absence
The No. 13 seed, you say?
That’s the number attached to the Española Valley High School girls basketball team for this year’s Class 4A state tournament, but the Lady Sundevils (17-11) are advancing to the final four.
Española completed their second upset of the tournament and defeated Albuquerque’s No. 5 Highland High School 54-44 in the quarterfinals Tuesday at Dreamstyle Arena-The Pit.
Española advances to the Semifinals at The Pit at 8 a.m., Thursday (3/14) against No. 1 Kirtland Central, who crushed Portales 71-39.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to be here,” Española’s Kaylee Chavez said with a laugh during the postgame interviews inside The Pit’s media room.
The Lady Sundevils got a sense that they could be there after finding out the Hornets’ leading-scorer in Cailee Crawford (22.2 points per game) was going to miss the game due to illness, which wasn’t made aware to Highland head coach Lonnie Neal until Tuesday morning.
Crawford’s 6 foot frame could have added more potential problems for Española, who was already outrebounded in the game, 41-16.
However, the Lady Sundevils took advantage of their opportunities at the charity stripe and converted 8-of-10 free throw attempts and also were able to outhustle the Lady Hornets on defense.
At one point in the game, Española had an 18-4 advantage in steals and the final margin would be 20-6.
“We wanted to go after every loose ball,” Chavez said. “We wanted to be the ones there for every 50-50 ball.”
“Our effort wanted to exceed theirs,” Destiny Valdez added.
Only four Lady Sundevils put the ball in the basket all game and Chavez scored a game-high 19 points while shooting 53 percent from the field. Fellow senior Kaylinn Martinez pitched in 11 and sophomores Anita DeAguero and Valdez added 12 apiece.
Española shot 37 percent for the game and limited their turnovers to eight, while Highland coughed up the ball 25 times in all.
The Lady Sundevils trailed 20-19 after the first quarter, but outscored the Lady Hornets in each of the final three quarters.
Sharahya Ortega led Highland with 13 points and Deniece Ryan had 12.
Before making the trip to The Pit for the quarterfinals, Española first had to get by No. 4 Pojoaque Valley High School, a team the Lady Sundevils had lost to twice in regular season district play by a combined four points.
With the slight scoring margin more in mind for the Lady Sundevils than the nine-seed difference between the two squads, Española came out confident and shot red-hot from the perimeter in route to a 67-57 first round upset of the Elkettes (23-5) March. 8 at Ben Luján Gymnasium.
The Lady Sundevils splashed shot after shot from the outside, totaling nine 3-pointers in the first half and 11 for the game. Overall, they shot 52 percent from the field on the night.
“We knew who we were, what we could do and people doubted us,” Española head coach Joe Estrada said. “How do you stop a team that can shoot like that?”
Chavez was responsible for three of the nine first half triples and she ran away from everyone else in the scoring column by totaling a game-high 26 points, scoring 11 in the first quarter alone.
“Once we drop a few, we all get our confidence up,” Chavez said. “We start clicking and once one starts going, we all get going and we keep encouraging each other.”
Valdez scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers, Jasmine Baca had 10, Christianne Sandoval knocked down two first half triples to score six and Martinez had five.
Española played with a certain tenacity, which was obvious in the way they threw themselves at the offensive glass in the first half and the way they were able to keep picking the pocket of Pojoaque for steals and runaway baskets in the second half.
“We had actually told each other at the beginning of the game that we needed to rebound and we needed to play defense,” Martinez said. “They were two big things and overall, I think — obviously we didn’t get to play them (Pojoaque) in the district championship because we lost to Los Alamos — it was just a big rivalry game for us and we had to redeem ourselves.”
Española took a 38-31 lead into halftime and remained ahead after the third quarter, 49-43.
The Elkettes climbed back within four points at 53-49 with five minutes remaining in the game, but the Lady Sundevils responded with an immediate 5-0 run.
It started with a 3-pointer from the left corner by Valdez, followed by a steal and score by Baca — who actually missed the first layup attempt — but corralled her own rebound to convert on the put back, in one of her several hustling and determining plays of the game.
“They played a hell of a game and I take my hat off to Joe, his staff and his kids — they all played well,” Pojoaque head coach Seledon Martinez said. “We gave them all they could handle there for a while too, but tonight, they were the better team.”
Tonni Aquino was the best option for Pojoaque, as the freshman totaled a team-high 15 points, with seven of those coming from the free throw line. Taylor Roybal and Ashten Martinez both added nine in the finale that happened way to soon for the Elkettes
“23-5, hey, that’s not a bad season,” Seledon Martinez said. “We wanted to go to Albuquerque, but we take this as a stepping stone in building our program. We gave it all we had and we had a pretty emotional last talk (in the locker room after the game) and the love that was shown in there is incredible.”