SANTA FE, N.M. — Twenty-three wins, a top three ranking in the polls throughout the regular season, and now a No. 3 seed in the Class 4A state tournament.
On the surface, things couldn’t appear much better for the Santa Fe Demonettes (23-3) as they enter the first round of the playoffs against visiting No. 14 Kirtland Central on Friday.
But beneath Santa Fe’s shiny new exterior may be something altogether different, which came to light after Saturday’s District 2-4A title loss to Española Valley. That was when it was suggested by Demonette players that all may not be well within the squad’s locker room.
When Elmer Chavez was asked specifically about the team’s internal issues, the Santa Fe coach downplayed the severity.
“The problem is that there’s only one basketball,” Chavez said. “We’ve had a player score 30, 38 and 31 points. When that happens, other players feel slighted because they don’t get the ball as much – it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately situation.
“Basically my team has three players that score – Jackie (Martinez), Sabrina (Lozada-Cabbage) and Kayla (Herrera). … We got together this week to talk about it and the situation has been fixed. We’re ready to go.”
The Demonettes will face former 4A juggernaut, Kirtland Central, which has played in 10 state title games – while winning six – since the New Mexico Activities Association went to five classes in 2001. As for this season, while the Broncos (12-15) are in a rare rebuilding mode, Chavez still isn’t taking any chances.
“They have struggled,” Chavez said, “but we can’t worry about that – we have to just come out and play. This will be a tough first game … but if we prepare ourselves well, good things will come.”
But as Santa Fe attempts to pick up the pieces after its district-title loss, Española Valley is still basking in the glow of Saturday’s win.
Sure, Sundevils coach Oliver Torres has been vocal, stating publicly that his team is better than its fifth seed. But after a few days to mull it over, the first-year Española Valley coach is finally over it – sort of.
“The rules are rules, and – even though we beat Santa Fe twice – I know we can’t be seeded higher than they were,” he said. “But ego-wise, I still think we should be the fourth seed. I don’t know how St. Pius got it – their record and their strength of schedule isn’t as good as ours – but what satisfies me is that we’re actually better off playing Grants than Miyamura. We know Grants.”
In the teams’ only head-to-head matchup, the Sundevils eked out a 62-61 win Jan. 4 over the Pirates, despite allowing standout Sydney Mares to torch them for 26 points. This time around, however, Torres promised things will be different.
“We didn’t do a good job of containing Mares – we actually didn’t have a good ballgame at all,” he said. “But we’re a different team than the last time we played Grants. Back then, were still learning a new system – but right now, we’re peaking.”
Española Valley is led by Lauren Quintana, who is averaging 15.6 points per contest. Mares leads the Broncos with a 14.5 point-per-game average.
The third team to emerge from the district, Los Alamos, received the No. 9 seed and will travel to face No. 8 Deming. The teams have faced one common opponent – Gadsden – with both squads earning the win. Erin Kirk paces the ‘Toppers with 10.5 points per game. The Wildcats are led in scoring by Kenzie Rinehart, who is averaging 13.8 points per contest this season.
Capital coach Mark Senteney was all right with his team’s No. 5 seed. But if he had his druthers, he would prefer facing an opponent other than No. 11 Moriarty, which the Jaguars defeated twice already this season.
When asked why, Senteney replied: “Sure, we beat them twice already, but they are playing some really good basketball right now – and they’re healthy. … They got that 6-5 guy, (Cody) Striker, back – and everyone tells me he looks good.
“It’s also real hard to beat a team three times in a season – but we’ll try.”
Along with Striker, who’s been nursing a knee injury, Capital will also have its hands full with 6-foot-5 senior post Cody Howse and 6-5 freshman Jake Fleming. The troika were responsible for Moriarty’s biggest win of the season to date – a 44-42 overtime win over No. 5 Albuquerque Academy in the District 5 semifinals. The Pintos finished second in the district tournament to No. 2 St. Pius.
“It’s going to be a tough game for us,” Senteney said. “But the good thing is, we’re at home.”
The same, however, cannot be said for district-mates Santa Fe and Española Valley, which will spend their weekend on the road.
The No. 14 Demons (14-15) will travel to face No. 3 Los Lunas (22-5), while the Sundevils (18-9) drew a No. 9 seed, which means they are off to the home of No. 8 Deming (21-7) – and, no, Española Valley coach Richard Martinez isn’t too pleased about having to make the five-hour trip.
“We got ourselves in this situation and now we have to get ourselves out of it,” Martinez said. “All year long, we’ve been battling ourselves – we can’t seem to finish games. We lost seven games by one or two points – now that’s frustrating.”
The Sundevils and Wildcats haven’t played this season, but among common opponents both teams lost to Capital while defeating Valencia. As for the Demons, Santa Fe travels to face a Tigers team that has won 16 straight games, dating back to a Jan. 5 loss to Mesilla Valley Christian. As for the key to stopping arguably the hottest team in 4A, Santa Fe coach David Rodriguez said: “We’re going to have to defend well and stay out of foul trouble. … Losing to Capital in the district semifinals has actually given us a chance to rest up and get healthy.
“This will have to be our best defensive games of the year.”
NOTE: Santa Fe sophomore guard Keanyn Evans, who has been out with a concussion sustained in December, has been cleared to play.