Blue versus red: North-South All-Star lineups set

Showcase games to feature 14 of Taos County’s top senior athletes

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High school all-star week is once again upon us. Deserving seniors who have been recognized for their individual talents and contributions to their respective sports teams will have an additional game or series to play before they hang up their high school sneakers.

The annual North-South extravaganza and all-star games are slated to begin this week, and Taos County will be sending 14 representatives to the Albuquerque and Rio Rancho area for one more interscholastic game – four more than last year.

The chance to play one more high school game is one more chance for fans to see their favorite athletes in competitive form. It’s also an honor to be viewed as one of the best in the state and to play side by side with other top individuals in their respective sports.

The following is a preview of the games themselves and players and coaches who will be involved in the upcoming contests.

1A-4A baseball

Providing the largest contingent of players from one team, the Taos Tigers are sending four representatives to play for the 1A-4A North all-star baseball team. The distinction is fitting due to the senior talent the Tigers had on this year’s roster. Making the trip to Rio Rancho are A.J. Fresquez, Brandon Montoya, Tyrone Green and Daniel Aguilar.

All four seniors played multiple positions and pitched for coach Miguel Quintana, who together led the Tigers to an overall record of 18-9 (.667 win percentage). Highlights of the 2017 campaign included a sixth consecutive trip to the New Mexico state playoffs and the third in a row for Quintana. Taos made it as far as the quarterfinals of the state tournament, where the team fell 7-3 to the Silver Colts at Rio Rancho High School May 11.

On defense, Montoya was primarily found at the shortstop position, Green was the starting first baseman, Aguilar and Fresquez alternated at left field and were rotated as utility defenders, depending on the pitching assignment for each respective game. According to coach Quintana, both Aguilar and Montoya will be playing at the next level – committing to play for Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, next year.

The four Taos teammates will be joined by other players from the northern half of the state, including three individuals from Shiprock and two players each from Sandia Prep, Pojoaque Valley and West Las Vegas. East Mountain, Estancia, Laguna-Acoma, McCurdy, Navajo Prep, St. Michael’s, Thoreau, Tohatchi, Wingate and Zuni will each send one player.

An added bonus to this year’s all-star game will be the return of coach Quintana as the skipper of the North team. Quintana was tapped to coach the men in red last year and was joined by Adam Abeyta as the lone Tiger from last year’s team to be hailed.

The first game of the three-game series will take place June 9 at 7 p.m. Games will continue June 10 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will be played at the Rio Rancho High School Baseball Fields in Rio Rancho.

‘6-Man,’ ‘8-Man’ and 2A football

In the “6-Man,” “8-Man” and 2A all-star game, players from Alamo Navajo, Escalante, Fort Sumner, Grady, Magdalena, Northwest and San Jon will join three Questa Wildcats as they take on the south at Nusenda Community Stadium June 10.

This year, Gabe Gallegos, Mario Sanchez and David “Bubba” Trujillo will don the scarlet uniform and share the decals of other northern teams on their Wildcat helmets. The 26-man roster is comprised of 13 individuals from Class 2A and 13 from either 6-Man or 8-Man teams.

Questa’s overall record last year was 2-4 with wins over Dulce and Navajo Pine. The Wildcats only had a six-game schedule due to the departure of their head coach and athletic director, Jesus Maes, who deserted the program in late June – leaving the structure of the team reeling and the administration of the team duties unfulfilled. Questa was not invited to the postseason in 2016.

Kickoff for the 6-Man 2A game is 7 p.m.

1A/2A basketball

The lone player from Questa from either the boys or girls basketball program, T.J. 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 sure-fire rebounder and passer – often connecting with his younger brother, Justin. Both Madrid brothers 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 2016-17 season included the high drama that filled Ben Luján Gymnasium during the third-place game at the Northern Rio Grande tournament at Pojoaque Valley High School Jan. 7 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 season was capped off with an invitation to the Class 2A state tournament and a trip to Jal in the southeastern part of the state to take on the Panthers in the opening round March 4.

Madrid will join Waylon Hinds from Escalante and Santiago Laumbach and Travis Romero from Mora as the four representatives from District 5-2A.

The 1A/2A boys all-star game will take place July 26 at 6 p.m. at Eldorado High School in Albuquerque.

3A/4A football

The Taos Tigers have one more senior making the North team compared to a year ago when a pair of big cats (Brandon Vigil and Khaleel Bilal) represented the team in the annual gridiron classic. This year, three Tigers were tapped to join a talented collection of players from the region. Ryan McCarty, Ronnie Salazar and Johnny Montaño will be putting the pads on for one more game and join 15 other players from District 2/5-4A to make up more than half of the 31-man roster. St. Michael’s will have six players on the North sideline and Robertson will send four. Pojoaque Valley and Bernalillo will each have two players suit up for the North, while West Las Vegas is sending one.

McCarty was Taos’ multidimensional player who primarily carried the ball for the Tigers as a running back. Salazar was a wide-out who was a first option of quarterback Jude Suazo. Montaño was a keystone lineman – anchoring both offense and defensive lines as Taos moved the ball on the ground and in the air in 2016.

The Taos Tigers had an overall record of 6-5 this past season under second-year head coach Art Abreu, finishing third in District 2/5-4A with a 4-2 record in the seven-team league – again making it to the state playoffs. High points for the Tigers included two separate three-game win streaks and pivotal victories over New Mexico Military Institute Sept. 9 and West Las Vegas Oct. 21.

The 3A/4A football game is scheduled to take place June 9 at Nusenda Community Stadium in Albuquerque. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

3A/4A girls basketball

Getting the nod and representing the Taos Lady Tigers basketball team is its lone senior player, Elena Espinoza. As part of a 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.

The apex of Espinoza’s season was a 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.

Espinoza will wear the coveted red jersey and join players from Shiprock, Navajo Prep, St. Michael’s, Tohatchi, Pecos, Sandia Prep and West Las Vegas in the girl's 3A/4A game scheduled for June 10 at Cibola High School in Albuquerque. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

3A/4A boys basketball

Just one of three seniors to start the 2016-17 season, Isaac 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 turn-around 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 boys 3A/4A game is slated for June 10 at Cibola High School in Albuquerque. Game time is 6 p.m.

1A/2A girls volleyball

Lynnae Rael is the lone female Questa athlete to be invited to join the all-star lineup. As the volleyball team’s libero, Rael was the leader on the floor for the Lady Cats as they achieved a 12-9 overall record in 2016.

Highlights from Questa’s winning season included a seven-match win streak that yielded only two sets to opponents during a monthlong stretch of the regular season.

The North-South volleyball game is scheduled to take place June 8 with time and location to be determined.

Along with the above-mentioned sports, there is also all-star softball and all-star tennis. No Taos County athletes were selected to compete in these games.

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