Neither could have expected just how crucial they would be.
The Jaguars (17-5, 3-1 2AAAA) rallied from an early eight-point deficit to defeat the Demons (10-12, 1-3) 67-58 in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
The difference: Capital center Taylor Martinez.
The 6-foot-6 senior scored a game-high 24 points, including 10 straight in the third quarter to lead a 14-2 Capital run over the first 5 minutes for a 43-30 lead. The Demons missed three 3-pointers and had two turnovers that contributed to the run. The Jaguars upped the margin to a seemingly commanding 50-36 lead at the 7-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
“The third quarter was just sloppy and terrible basketball,” said Demons guard Elliott Nicholas, who led the team with 22 points.
Nicholas led a late Santa Fe High surge to pull within 59-54 with more than a minute to play, but the comeback stalled.
“I don’t care how many points I score if we don’t win,” Nicholas said. “It doesn’t feel good at all. We win as a team and lose as a team.”
Capital’s other scoring threats got their points as well, as Christian Martinez dropped in 20 and Mikey Lopez added 17.
“It was a good win for us, Santa Fe High is a quality opponent and we’re lucky to come out of here with a win,” said Mark Senteney, Capital head coach.
The game, though, was overshadowed by news just before tip-off that Santa Fe High head coach David Rodriguez and Capital varsity assistant Terence Mirabal were on paid administrative leave for separate incidents. Demons assistant Chris Romero led the Demons in place of Rodriguez.
“Coach Romero is a good coach, he knows what he’s doing,” Nicholas said. “[The situation] hasn’t affected us on the court and its not the reason we lost this game.”
Romero conceded it may have affected the team a bit emotionally, but the game plan was not affected.
“We’re united as a team and they’re gonna play hard, and they’re gonna finish the season hard,” Romero said. “We wanted to concentrate on Christian [Martinez] and Mikey [Lopez] and instead of them hurting us, Taylor [Martinez] hurt us. He really hurt us in the post and we couldn’t get any inside help on him.”
While the result was bad for Santa Fe High, it proved to be a boost for Capital. When Española Valley defeated Bernalillo 83-61 at home, the Jaguars found themselves in a tie for first place. To boot, they also have a week off before playing both co-leaders next week.
Capital travels to Española on Feb. 12, then get the Spartans at home on Feb. 15 with a chance to avenge a 59-58 loss that dropped them in a tie for second place at the time.
All that will be on the line is control of the district.
“We got to bring the same mentality that we brought [Wednesday],” Taylor Martinez said. “I’m just glad I could help out the team and get a ‘W.’ ”
Meanwhile, the loss drops the Demons into fourth in 2AAAA, and they need a string of wins to put them in good position for the 2AAAA tournament, if not the district title.
“We need to get up to at least third in district,” Nicholas said about the Demons’ goal going forward.
Santa Fe High will get a crack at Española on Saturday at home. The Demons only lost 51-49 in their Jan. 26 meeting in Española.
“I had a couple of bug turnovers that I won’t have next time,” said Nicholas. “They lost their big guy, but they’re still a good team. It’s gonna be a tough game, but definitely winnable.”
It seems the term “crucial” will be bandied about plenty over the next two weeks.