It was the same thing, just a different day and different jersey for Española Valley High School’s Ryan Trujillo.
The Sundevil senior did exactly what fans in the Valley had seen time and time again, but this time he shined at the 2019 New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s All-Star basketball series May 31 and June 1 at Albuquerque’s Valley and Manzano High Schools.
Trujillo suited up for the Large-School Northeast team, who was headed by none other than his coach of the last two seasons in James Branch while at Española. The duo helped the Northeast reach the championship game June 1 at Manzano, but despite Trujillo’s will and game-high 23-point effort, the title was taking by the Southwest, who survived a comeback bid from the Northeast to hold on for an 88-84 victory.
“We didn’t quite have the energy that we had last night,” Branch said about the comparison between the championship game and the opening game 93-91 win over the Southeast at Valley the night prior. “We were down 17 and really had to fight. In fact, we were down 17 twice and had to cut it back We exerted a lot of energy last night.”
Playing a second game in as many days — plus the draining effort the team made to comeback the night before — the Northeast was faced with a similar situation in the championship. Thanks to a hot start from behind the 3-point line by the Southwest — who knocked down six triples in the first half — the Northeast was forced again to hit the comeback trail, and they were nearly completely guided by the right hand of Trujillo.
Trailing 44-35 after twenty minutes of play, the Northeast would fall behind by double digits in the second half, but that’s when the lone Sundevil player on the roster began to heat up.
Trujillo began his second half tear (where he scored 16 of his 23 points) with his team behind 54-43 with just over four minutes gone in the half. He followed up an acrobatic drive through traffic with a triple that touched nothing but net from the right wing, and that five-point swing brought the deficit back to six points and brought some momentum back to the Northeast’s side.
Trujillo played the first seven minutes of the second half, which was slightly longer than most players on any teams at the All-Star series, who generally subbed in and out in five-minute increments. With his hot hand, Branch played Trujillo for 16-and-a-half minutes in the second half.
“The hardest thing was substitutions and there were a few guys who didn’t get as many minutes tonight,” Branch said. “I had to keep Ryan in there because he was the one who got things going; we were struggling offensively and hey, I’m biased. I’m biased and I was going to leave my guy in there and finish it out with him.”
With his placement in the lineup cemented, like clockwork, it was Trujillo who corralled and offensive rebound and put back at the rim to bring the Northeast even at 62-all with 7:32 left. They would then take their first lead of the second half with 4:54 remaining after Hope Christian’s Isaiah Dockery drilled a deep triple to make the score 75-72.
The shot prompted a timeout by Southwest head coach Billy Page from Ruidoso High School. In the huddle near the bench, Branch was as fierce as if he was coaching in the state tournament: slamming his clipboard on the ground and demanding his guys “give it four more minutes.” However, whatever Page said to his players in the opposing huddle worked, because the Southwest answered their first deficit of the second half with nine straight points, spearheading their way to close out the game behind spectacular free throw shooting in the final two minutes.
“It was another great experience and I was blessed to be here,” Branch — who was unable to find another coaching job for next season after being fired by Española last month — said. “I’ll move on and see what else is out there. It was great to finish it out here tonight and having two games (as opposed to one in the old North-South All-Star format) gave the kids a whole lot more opportunities.”
The Southwest shot 13-of-15 from the charity stripe in the second half, and Silver High School’s Tristin Moore made 8-of-9 himself in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 14 points and Devin Serrano from Albuquerque High had 13. Santa Fe High’s Antonio Lovato followed behind Trujillo for the Northeast with 19. He will continue his basketball career next year at New Mexico Highlands University.
McCurdy Player Makes Northeast
Representing the Small-School Northeast was McCurdy Charter School’s Ubaldo Barela, who was just getting his week in Albuquerque started.
After the completion of the basketball portion of the series, Barela headed off to the baseball diamond to play for the North Small-School, along with teammates Isaiah Archuleta and Kemmer Croff on Monday night.
Barela helped the Northeast finish in third place over the weekend in basketball after the team went 1-1 and won the consolation game against the Small-School Southwest 97-85 on June 1 at Valley. It was a strong comeback for the Northeast, who lost the prior day to the Southeast by a score of 114-85.
The 13-point victory in the consolation featured streaks of brilliance by both squads, as well as times of miscommunication, turnovers and sloppy play. Nothing completely unexpected after players came together to play for the first time with just a few hours of practice time to mesh.
The Northeast lead by double-digits at times in the first half and took a 52-43 lead into halftime. What momentum they brought into the locker room vanished as the second half began, as the Southwest went on a scoring tear that resulted in a complete turnaround. The Southwest built as large as a 13-point lead at 72-59 with 11:54 remaining in the game after Tell Swift from Animas High School drained a long-range 3-pointer from the right wing.
“Sometimes it’s tough to get into a rhythm because we sub in and sub out so much,” Barela said about the momentum swings in the game. “That’s why you saw those streaks that each team went on.”
After falling behind by 13, the Northeast charged back with their next streak behind Mora High School’s Carlos Muller and Santa Rosa High School’s Joaquin Romo. Muller tallied four 3-pointers in the second half and Romo poured in 10 in the final twenty minutes. Each player finished with a tied team-high of 13 points.
After Barela converted on a reverse layup alone under the rim to tie the score at 78-all with 6:17 left, East Mountain High School’s Aaron Talamante scored on a spectacular layup on a baseline drive to further turn the tide in the Northeast’s favor, once again. They pushed their lead back up to 88-81 with 3:12 left after one of Muller’s 3s and never looked back. They retook the lead by as many as 14 points after trailing by 13, all in the second half before the final 12-point differential.
Barela said he enjoyed the experience of meshing with other players from around the region, which included Northern New Mexico College’s latest signing in Deven Thompson from New Mexico School for the Deaf.
“I’ve never played with a lot of guys like that before, so it was a good experience,” Barela said. “It was crazy (playing alongside Thompson) and it was different; the way he backs guys down and gets up.”
Thompson finished the consolation game with 10 points and Quemado High School’s Kenneth Atwood carried the Southwest with 17.