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ALBUQUERQUE – As upset-minded as the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team might have been heading into Friday night’s game, the St. Pius X Sartans were not to be denied.
The Sartans methodically drove to the basket and pounded the ball in down low to take control of Friday’s Class 4A state championship first round game early. The Hilltoppers took the air out of the ball in the second quarter to try to keep the contest close, but the second half was all St. Pius.
St. Pius’ defense and rebounding closed the door on any hopes the Hilltoppers might have had of knocking off the Sartans and advancing in the state tournament in the third quarter. St. Pius dominated the boards on both ends, putting in several second chances in the third quarter en route to a 59-31 victory.
This was the second meeting between the two teams this year and both ended with a similar result. St. Pius won handily in January, topping Los Alamos by 24 points.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart, who has guided Los Alamos to the playoffs in both years she’s led the team, said afterward Los Alamos needed to win the battle for rebounds and keep St. Pius from setting itself up with easy buckets. Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers were able to do neither Friday night.
Los Alamos (13-16) was the No. 14 seed in the playoffs, while the Sartans are the No. 3 seed. The Sartans now advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal round at The Pit.
The Sartans, if they can remain hot, could be one of the sleepers in the 4A tournament. They will face sixth-seeded Valencia in Tuesday’s second round and match up well height-wise with both top-seeded Los Lunas and second-seeded Santa Fe, both of which were winners Friday night.
The loss was the final game in the careers of several of Los Alamos’ seniors, many of whom have spent several seasons up with the varsity.
Playing their final game for the Hilltoppers were Shannon Doyle, Krysta Salazar, Alison Crane, Elena Atencio, Kiana Zerr, Kristen Paulson, McKenzie Logan and Marissa Larribas.
The Hilltoppers were limited to just single-digit scoring in each quarter, although it did outscored the Sartans (22-5) 8-7 in the second quarter. In that quarter, the Hilltoppers played four corners offense, running off nearly three minutes near the end of the quarter, trying to keep in the ballgame after the Sartans opened an 11-point lead.
Los Alamos cut the lead down to 24-16 by the break, but struggled to contain St. Pius’ Natalie Zamora, who had 6 points and an assist, in the third quarter. The Sartans outscored the Hilltoppers 15-6 in the third quarter to all but salt the contest away.
Zamora finished with 17 for the Sartans. She was the only player in double-figures for either side.
Zerr and Larribas finished with 6 points in the game. No other Hilltopper had more than 5 points.