The Española Valley High School boys basketball team had little time to rest after the Christmas Holiday, as the Sundevils got back to work quickly at the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic Dec. 26-28 at Rio Rancho High School.
On the third day of basketball, the Sundevils (8-5) let a 21-16 halftime lead slip away in the consolation (fifth place) championship, as Sandia Prep exploded for 34 points over the final two quarters to win 50-35 and revenge a loss to Española in the championship game of the Sandia Prep Invitational earlier in December.
Springing the Sundevils to the consolation championship was a gutsy comeback and uphill fight against El Paso, Texas’ Socorro High School on Dec. 27, a game that resulted in a 62-59 win in overtime for the Sundevils.
Española erased a 13-point first quarter deficit, which came in the fashion of a 13-0 run by the Bulldogs to start the game, and Jordan Duda lifted Española down the stretch and led the Sundevils’ scoring efforts with 19 points.
The Sundevils never held a lead in the game until the fourth quarter when Jon Garcia knocked down a pair of free throws to give Española a 45-44 advantage with 3:16 remaining.
As the fourth quarter was winding down, it was Duda’s long range, desperation 3 with 10 seconds remaining that kept Española alive and sent the game to overtime for an extra four minutes.
After missing 3-pointers on the first two attempts of the game-tying possession, Española battled underneath to secure two big offensive rebounds, and the second gave way for Duda’s game-extender.
Socorro’s Diego Torres attempted to launch a 3 at the other end for the win as the regulation buzzer was about to sound, but Española’s Mario Equino stripped the ball away before Torres could ever release the shot from the corner.
In the overtime period, Española outscored Socorro 14-11 and eight of those points were credited to Duda from the free throw line, as he shot a perfect 8-of-8 from the stripe.
Melaki Jones was responsible for the Sundevils’ lone field goal of overtime, as Española scored 12 of their 14 points from the free throw line, shooting at an 80 percent clip.
“We made some big plays in the end and we knocked down our free throws,” Española head coach Gabe Martinez said. “Duda’s hit some big shots for us and not only does he take the game into his own hands and things like that, I’m proud of him — because I know he can score the ball — but there was three, four or five times in that game where he drew a double team and dished the ball off to find someone else.”
Anthony Law was the recipient of a few of those dishes, as the sophomore eclipsed double-digits with 11 points, while Andray Lujan-Pana woke the Sundevils up in the first half by scoring all nine of his points from beyond the arc. Garrett May added all eight of his points in the second half and overtime.
Socorro constructed its game-opening 13-0 run in big thanks to Española turnovers against the full-court press, as the Sundevils coughed up the ball a total of eight times over the first eight minutes.
However, Española ended the first quarter on an 8-3 run behind the hot left shooting hand of Lujan-Pana, and the Sundevils continued to chip away at the lead as the game progressed, just trailing 27-22 at halftime and 39-35 after the third quarter.
“I wish this was the first time where we’ve come back from big early, but we’ve dug ourselves into some holes,” Martinez said. “With the group we have this year, a lot of it is a learning experience as we go; it’s teaching us that even if we go down early the game isn’t over, and we’re grinding out kind of these quote on quote, ‘ugly wins.’"
In the opening round, the Sundevils hung tough with Albuquerque’s Highland High School for the better part of three quarters, but Hornets’ big man Jose Murillo took matters into his own hands over the final two quarters, scoring 18 of his game-high 24 points in the second half to help guide Highland to a 66-48 win.
The Sundevils trailed just 46-40 as the fourth quarter began, but Highland scored the first five points of the quarter — which capped of a 19-4 overall run stemming back to the third — after Tommy Huynh stole a pass and ran the other way for a bucket in transition with 5:59 remaining.