Local basketball players tapped to play in North-South all-star tilt

Elena Espinoza, T.J. Madrid and Isaac Esquibel chosen to represent their schools and communities as all-star basketball players

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Earning spots on their respective class all-star teams, three Taos County basketball players will represent their teams and their communities in one more interscholastic ballgame this summer. Elena Espinoza from the Taos Lady Tigers, Tomas “T.J.” Madrid Jr. from the Questa Wildcats and Isaac Esquibel from the Taos Tigers have been pegged to participate in the prestigious geographic classic tilt and will suit up for the north – to do battle with the south.

All senior athletes in 2017, the three representatives from Northern New Mexico join athletes from other sports in the area, including Lynnae Rael from the Questa Lady Cats in volleyball; Gabe Gallegos, Mario Sanchez and David “Bubba” Trujillo from the Wildcats football team; and Ryan McCarty, Johnny Montaño and Ronnie Salazar from the Taos Tigers football team. All of these student-athletes will don the scarlet uniform of the north to take on the best of the best from the southern half of the state, who will wear royal blue.

T.J. Madrid

The lone player from Questa from either the boys or girls basketball program, Madrid was a senior guard and leader on the floor for the Wildcats, who finished the 2016-17 season with an overall record of 15-11. A prolific shooter who regularly scored in the 20s, Madrid was also a surefire rebounder and passer – often connecting with his younger brother, Justin. Both T.J. and Justin were player transfers from Taos – following their dad, Tomas Sr., who was hired as the head coach of the Wildcats in May 2016.

Highlights of the year included a second-place finish at the Cowbell Tournament Dec. 10. In that long-standing annual tournament, which features teams from the northeast quadrant of the state, the Wildcats beat the Peñasco Panthers in the quarterfinals and the Springer Red Devils in the semifinals. In the finals, however, Questa was unable to defeat the Maxwell Bears, losing 88-66 and the chance to bring home the cowbell traveling trophy. Maxwell would eventually go on to win the Class A state championship – breezing through the bracket and toppling Springer 63-53 in the March 11 title game at WisePies Arena, aka the “Pit.”

At the Northern Río Grande tournament at Pojoaque Valley High School Jan. 7, high drama filled Ben Lujan Gymnasium during the third-place game as Madrid and the Wildcats knocked off the highly ranked Mora Rangers 59-58 in overtime. In that contest, Madrid dropped 20 points and elevated his team to victory over a Ranger team the Wildcats had not beat since 2009.

Another notch in the belt for Madrid and company came during the district season when Questa beat the Escalante Lobos 58-53 at home in the “Mini-Pit” Jan. 19. Previously, the Wildcats had lost seven straight games to the Lobos dating back to December 2012.

The 2016-17 campaign was capped with an invitation and a No. 10 seed for Questa in the state tournament. Unfortunately, as the lower seed in a seven-versus-10 matchup, the Wildcats were on the road for the opening round and had to travel to Jal to take on the Panthers in the Class 2A regional. Located in the lowermost corner of southeast New Mexico, the 6 1/2-hour drive proved to be too much of a disadvantage for Questa, and Madrid’s season ended in a 66-56 loss March 4.

A/2A North all-stars roster – boys basketball

Keenan Teller, Ramah

Isaiah Garcia, Springer

Shawntel Guerro, Alamo Navajo

Anthony Pino, Magdalena

Diego Jacquez, Coronado

Santiago Laumbach, Mora*

Travis Romero, Mora*

Andrew Archuleta, Maxwell

Tyrique Windstead, To’hajiilee

Tomas Madrid Jr., Questa*

Estevan Romero, Springer

Waylon Hinds, Escalante*

* - denotes District 5-2A players

Boys 1A/2A all-star game information

Boys 1A/2A all-star game information

Date: July 26

Time: 6 p.m.

Location: Eldorado High School (Albuquerque)

Elena Espinoza

Espinoza has been a fixture of the Taos Tigers athletic machine for the past four years and a productive member of the Taos Lady Tigers basketball team during that stretch. Wearing number five, Espinoza has been the general on the floor for Taos, guiding the Lady Tigers to three consecutive district runner-up finishes during her freshman, sophomore and junior years. Espinoza was the sole senior on the Lady Tigers roster in 2016-17.

As part of an upperclassmen guard duo with junior Aaliyah Quintana, Espinoza shared ball-handling responsibilities and scoring duties in a two-pronged attack pattern designed by first-year coach David Sanchez. Often, if one of the two guards was struggling with scoring from the field, the other player would pick up the slack for the good of the team.

One of the highlights to Espinoza’s season was the 24-point performance against the visiting Pecos Lady Panthers Jan. 28. In that nonconference game, the Lady Tigers came back from a double-digit deficit to win 65-60 off an impressive shooting day for Espinoza, who recorded five three-pointers on the day.

The Lady Tigers finished the season with an overall record of 12-16 and a district record of 2-6 and made the postseason tournament as the No. 16 seed. Traveling to play the No. 1 seed, the Hope Christian Lady Huskies, in the opening round of state tournament play, the Taos team found itself outsized and outgunned – falling to the eventual state runners-up 53-27.

Girls basketball 3A/4A North all-stars roster

Harlei Hacesse, Navajo Prep

Jenika Padilla, West Las Vegas*

Tiffany Encinas, West Las Vegas*

Cheyenne Begay, Tohatchi

Crystal Haley, Tohatchi

Paige Dale, Shiprock

Melanie Secody, Shiprock

Tanisha Begay, Shiprock

Jocelyn Fernandez, St. Michael’s*

Elena Espinoza, Taos*

Megan Armijo, Pecos

Madie Trainor, Sandia Prep

* - denotes District 2-4A players

Girls 3A/4A all-star game information

Girls 3A/4A all-star game information

Date: June 10

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Cibola High School (Albuquerque)

Isaac Esquibel

Just one of three seniors to start the 2016-17 season, Esquibel was a multifaceted player for the Taos Tigers. With the size of a power forward, but the shooting touch of a wing or guard, Esquibel provided a multitude of options for coach Daniel “Doc” Trujillo.

Esquibel’s signature move was his unstoppable turnaround jump shot that helped him garner several double digit-scoring games throughout the year.

Despite their youth and inexperience, the Tigers managed to remain competitive down the stretch – ultimately losing their District 2-4A tournament game to the Pojoaque Valley Elks 52-44 to end their season Feb. 21.

While there were many memorable moments and scoring achievements made by Esquibel during the 2016-17 campaign, none were as exciting as the buzzer-beater shot by Esquibel to beat the visiting Los Alamos Hilltoppers Jan. 10. The roar produced by the Taos Tigers’ fans was deafening, as a full-court pass found its way into Esquibel’s hands and his pull-up jumper found its way into the net as time expired. The win would eventually be negated, however, as an administrative error found the Taos Tigers basketball team to be out of compliance with one of its players – causing all of the team’s 2016-17 wins to be forfeited. A lone district win against the St. Michael’s Horsemen was allowed to remain on the books, so the Tigers finished with a 1-26 overall record and missed the state playoffs.

Boys basketball 3A/4A North all-stars roster

John Rigatti, Desert Academy

Tyrese Morgan, Dulce

Lance McMillin, Rehoboth

Brandon Balone, Wingate

Noah Leyba, Bernalillo

Cameron Quintana, Pecos

Isaiah Gallegos, West Las Vegas*

D.J. Bustos, West Las Vegas*

Isaac Esquibel, Taos*

Luke Archuleta, St. Michael’s*

Dominic Roybal, Pojoaque*

Anfernee Callado, Dulce

* - denotes District 2-4A players

Boys 3A/4A all-star game information

Date: June 10

Time: 6 p.m.

Location: Cibola High School (Albuquerque)

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