By Ari Levin
SUN Sports Writer
The Española Valley High School Sundevils held strong early, but the wheels came off in the second half as they fell 72-47 to number 2-seeded Gallup in the state quarterfinals.
“Learn and grow,” Española coach Gabe Martinez told his team after the game. “I told them, ‘You can do two things with this. You can allow it to affect you in a negative way, or you can use it as motivation and start doing things to hopefully, in the future, make it a different outcome,’” he said.
The game was a slugfest early on with both teams strong on defense. The number 7-seeded Sundevils held Gallup, a team that scored 90 points in its first-round game, to just 13 in the first quarter. Senior forward Jon Garcia looked especially strong on defense, with multiple blocks in the first half.
But the offense never manifested for Española.
“I don’t want to be so Gregg Popovich with you, but we had a bad game,” Martinez summarized, referencing the San Antonio Spurs coach known for short answers to media. “There’s no scientific answer for it, but we had a bad game.”
Española tried to score in the paint and from the free-throw line, but when they fell behind early it was clear that Gallup was too strong. Both teams shot below 30 percent in the first half, and the Sundevils were within eight points at halftime and very much still a threat. But in the second half, it was 27 percent shooting for Española and 52 percent for Gallup. Española’s starters combined to shoot 5-for-36 (14 percent) from the field.
“This is my first time looking at the stat sheet,” Martinez revealed halfway through his postgame press conference. Then he took a long pause, reviewing the paper in front him while shaking his head. “Oof. Those are some rough numbers there, gentlemen,” he let out.
Ollie Fell led the Sundevils with 11 points off the bench and six rebounds, and was by far the most efficient player on offense.
Thousands of fans were in attendance supporting both teams, with a nearly sold-out crowd at The Pit and a loud atmosphere matching the early excitement. Ultimately, their quarterfinal would be the second-to-last game played with an audience. After the day, the rest of the tournament was played with a heavily limited capacity because of the COVID-19 virus.
Española ends a strong season under first-year coach Martinez, finishing with an 18-10 record. The Sundevils reached the state quarterfinals by defeating Kirtland Central. Last year, they lost in a home upset in the first round. This year they captured the District 2 regular season title, though they lost to Taos in the district tournament on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
None of the current Sundevils were on the 2017-18 team that made the state final. But the youth of the team will be a strength going forward, with just two seniors leaving.
“About 80 percent of our team are sophomores,” Martinez said. “So, I’m going to have a majority of those guys for the next two years. Which is a beautiful thing.”