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Basketball: LA boys have to travel despite seed

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By Mike Cote

One coach was fairly neutral. One coach was hot under the collar.That was the reaction of the Los Alamos Hilltopper basketball coaches to the New Mexico Activities Association’s boys and girls tournament brackets, which were released Sunday afternoon.Both the Hilltopper teams made the cut of 16 in the Class AAAA tournament, which starts this weekend at the homes of the higher seeds.Mostly.Of the two exceptions, both of which are in the boys’ bracket, Los Alamos is one.The Hilltopper boys, who were given an at-large nod as a seven seed, will have to make a long road trip Saturday to play at Deming, the 10th seed in the tournament.The ’Toppers were one of two teams snakebitten by the NMAA tournament rule that a district champion has a home game in the first round. Deming won the three-team District 3AAAA tournament and will host Saturday’s game despite a lackluster 12-17 record this season.“I don’t understand the rule that if you win your district, you get a home game,” Kirk said. “I think it should be based on seeding.”That news didn’t sit well with Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk.Los Alamos finished third in District 2AAAA this season, which many consider the toughest district in the classification, behind Española Valley and Capital. Española Valley (25-1) is the top-seeded team in the tournament, and Capital (21-6) is a very respectable three seed.District 2AAAA sent four teams to the tournament. Bernalillo, which finished fourth in the standings this season, snuck in as a 12 seed and, all things considered, doesn’t have the worst draw in the world.Deming’s boys were 7-15 in nondistrict games.“I don’t think it’s my fault your district’s weak,” Kirk said. “Nor do I think it’s my team’s fault.”Artesia, in the sixth slot, will also have to travel despite a better ranking than its opponent, Shiprock, which pulled off an upset in the District 1AAAA championship game. The two schools could scarcely be further apart and still be in New Mexico.Los Alamos’ girls, meanwhile, picked up a fifth seed for their tournament. Because Los Alamos won its district tournament, it will play at home Friday against the 12th-seeded Piedra Vista Panthers.Because of a stunning loss by Moriarty to Del Norte in the 5AAAA tournament, Los Alamos thought it had a shot at earning a three seed.But head coach Gerry Washburn said the differences between the three-through-five seeded teams are pretty subtle.“I’m perfectly comfortable with where we’re at,” Washburn said.The biggest beneficiary from the Moriarty loss was Roswell (18-9), which picked up the vacant third seed where some had penciled in the Pintos before their tournament loss.Roswell, too, emerged from a three-team district, 4AAAA.The Pintos, whose only 5AAAA losses prior to the upset in the tournament was to district-leading and second-seeded St. Pius, earned the fourth seed for the state playoffs.Kirtland Central is the top seed in the Class AAAA girls tournament. Kirtland Central won District 1AAAA and hold an impressive 24-3 record this season, half a game worse than St. Pius, though Kirtland Central beat St. Pius earlier this season.Washburn did express some surprise that Taos — the 2AAAA runner-up in the regular season before being upset by Española Valley in the district tournament — was shunned by the selection committee. Española Valley, which went winless in 2006-07, received a 15th seed for this season’s tournament, but that ranking crushed Taos’ chances of grabbing an at-large bid.Piedra Vista (10-16) was tied for the second-fewest number of wins of any team in the field this season, along with 16th-seeded Belen. Only Española Valley (8-15) had fewer.