Anxious to finally win state, Espanola Valley's girls face nemesis Gallup in Tuesday night's fourth-straight match-up with Bengals in 5A basketball tournament at the WisePies Arena
Tip-off scheduled for 8:15 between 4th seeded Sundevils and 11th seeded Bengals in the quarterfinals
By ARNIE LESHIN
Gallup's girls have something that Espanola Valley would like, state basketball championships, three in fact.
Last year, the Sundevils were red-hot heading into the state 5A tournament. They had won yet another district and had reeled off 11 in a row until they met up with undefeated, top-seed Gallup in the semis at the WisePies Arena, aka the UNM Pit.
Down went Espanola, 53-33, the third straight time it had been eliminated by the Bengals. Home again to look ahead to this season when it returned anxious experienced seniors. Gallup lost in the final to Roswell, but that was no consolation to the Sundevils.
So still in quest of hoisting the blue trophy, again they meet up with the Bengals, who they defeated 74-56 earlier this season at home, but that was not the state tournament, this is. Plus Gallup (14-14) is the 11th seed this time and Espanola is No. 3 with a 20-6 record.
No matter, it's Gallup. It will bring its usual big turnout and the same with the Sundevils' faithtul. The Bengals won state in 1994, again in 1997 over Santa Fe High coached by Ron Drake in 4A, and in 2006. In the 2000 final and now in 5A, they were defeated by Clovis.
But they've been there, have hoisted championship trophies, while Espanola is still in the hunt, 8haven't never advanced past the semis after Gallop disposed of it the last three times in that round.
So there's no doubt that head coach Cindy Roybal was happy when the Bengals went on the road to turn back 6th seeded Albuquerque St. Pius X, 54-44, in the opening round.
Now they meet up Tuesday night at the same Pit, tip-off scheduled for 8:15.
"I really felt that Gallup was going to win that game," Roybal said in regard to the contest against the Sartans.
But she wasn't too sure of getting past visiting Aztec, the 14th seed, in the first round. As Aztec slowed down the game to counter the Espanola transition attack, it led 24-19 late in the third quarter.
But the Sundevils then went on a 16-6 run in the fourth quarter to gain a tough 35-30 victory, their fifth in a row.
Roybal has hoisted the blue trophy twice, when as head coach of 3A Santa Fe Indian School her Braves won it back-to-back in 2011 and 2012, with a shot at a third straight ruined by a one-point loss in the title game to Lovington.
This is her third season at Espanola. The past two lead up to this one that features 5-foot-11 senior post Alexis Lovato, 5-2 senior guard Leah DeAguero, 5-5 senior wing Alycia Archibeque, and 5-8 senior forward Brenda Gardulo. Off the bench, there's outside threat Kaylee Chavez, a 5-3 sophomore guard and 5-10 senior post Alexis Trujillo.
The only key player it graduated after last season's 25-5 mark was talented 5-8 wing starter Kaitlyn Romero, now at Division 2 Fort Lewis College.
Gallup graduated six seniors, one the 5-foot point guard Shenoah Begay, the other 6-foot center Niasia Alamosah. Now it has a trio of 5-9ers to mix in with 5-11 junior Journey Gillson and 5-10 sophomore Ashley Antone, plus another 5-foot point guard in sophomore Amanda Mitchell.
This is a less experienced group, but the program manages to play up when the state tourney comes around.
The survivor gets the 7th seeded Kirtland Central (14-10), 2nd seeded Los Lunas (21-7) winner, but there's no way the Sundevils are looking ahead.