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Demons playing for third regular-season title at Los Lunas tournament

December 30, 2018

LOS LUNAS — Santa Fe High’s boys and girls basketball teams will play for some hardware Saturday.

The Demons have a chance to win their third regular-season tournament — something that hasn’t been done in at least two decades, if ever for the boys basketball program.

They play host Los Lunas for the Village of Los Lunas Holiday Tournament title at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Santa Fe High beat Phoenix (Ariz.) Central 70-59 in a semifinal Friday, thanks to 18 points from Fedonta “J.B.” White and a 23-for-25 performance at the free-throw line.

Meanwhile, the Demonettes will play for the consolation bracket title — otherwise known as the fifth-place game — against Artesia at noon. They earned that honor by beating Valencia, 55-40, behind a balanced offensive attack in the consolation semifinal.

Boys

Santa Fe High 70, Phoenix Central 59

The Demons (11-1) pride themselves on their 3-point shooting, and that got them a 30-17 halftime lead thanks to four threes. The second half found the perimeter game wanting, so Santa Fe High shifted gears and attacked the basket against the taller, more athletic Bobcats. The Demons proceeded to connect on all 15 free throws in the second half to hold off Phoenix Central’s charge.

“It takes us a minute to figure it out, when things aren’t coming easy, like when shots aren’t falling,” Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole said. “That’s what I’m proud of: They figure it out so far.”

Actually, it took the Demons 2 minutes, 47 seconds to figure things out, as the Bobcats (10-5) reeled off nine straight points to cut a 37-23 deficit to 37-32. Greg Butler drained a 3 from the wing with 1:35 left in the third quarter.

It took a three-pointer to help Santa Fe High take momentum back, but it was the only one in the second half. White drained it from the left wing with 1:02 left for a 42-34 lead that started a 7-0 run. Perhaps the key basket came right at the quarter buzzer when Antonio Lovato beat the Phoenix Central defense in transition for a layup for a 44-34 lead.

Christian Kavanaugh opened the fourth quarter with a floater in the paint that bounced around the rim and through the basket for a 46-34 edge. The Demons missed just two shots in the final period. They were a perfect 14-for-14 from the stripe and 6 of 8 from the field — all of which came inside of 5 feet. Santa Fe High sophomore guard Cruz Martinez said building a three-possession advantage allowed the team to play more relaxed and within the constructs of the offense in which the Demons can spread the floor and attack the basket.

“It gives you a sense of relief where you don’t have to be afraid,” said Martinez, who had 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. “You have that little cushion where you can attack, but be smart about it.”

Girls

Santa Fe High 55, Valencia 40

Sharing is most definitely caring for the Demonettes, and they showed that through the first two games.

They had 10 players score in a 56-48 loss to Gallup on Thursday — a game that turned on a 21-4 scoring run by the Lady Bengals in the third quarter that erased a 26-24 Santa Fe High lead. A day later against the Lady Jaguars, nine players scored as the Demonettes (5-6) built the lead to as much as 35-14. Alexis Espinosa scored on a putback with 4:46 left in the third quarter. Espinosa, who had nine points, was a prime example of Santa Fe High head coach Nate Morris’ distribution plan: The more confident shooters there are, the better.

“We’ve challenged every player to just score two points,” Morris said. “You got 11 players, so that’s 22 points.”

That’s the baseline, but Morris knows other players will get their points, like senior wing Taylor Salazar. Despite intense pressure from Valencia’s defense, Salazar managed 13 points to lead the Demonettes. However, she also showed that she is not just a scoring machine. She had several assists finding teammates cutting to the basket for layups as they took advantage of spreading the floor.

“It looks pretty,” Salazar said. “I feel people don’t think I can pass it, that I just shoot.”

Morris said it has been a work in progress to change some of the Demonettes’ mindset on the offensive end, indicating that a lot of them didn’t have the green light to shoot when they were open last year. The summer and the first half of the season has been about changing that and making each player a scoring threat.

“That’s what I was told by the [athletic director], the principal, even the girls were telling me that,” Morris said. “Take a look at this game. When teams face-guard Taylor, it makes it hard for Taylor to get her points. Every point she got was well-earned, but everybody else stepped up. So when teams go box-and-1 on her, we got four others who can score.”

It came together in the final minutes as Valencia (1-10) cut the margin to 48-38 with more than 3 minutes left. Salazar answered with a pair of free throws, then Espinosa drained a free throw and junior post Amber Lucero had a layup off an Aaliyah Lucero pass in the low post that pushed the margin up to 53-40 with 1:48 left.

Note: Radio station 1400 AM-KVSF will broadcast the Santa Fe High-Los Lunas boys championship game Saturday night.

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