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BERNALILLO — There isn’t a clear-cut favorite in District 2-4A boys basketball this season, and despite a rough nondistrict season, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers have a shot to turn things around.
The Hilltoppers knew this heading into their district opener Wednesday night against the Bernalillo Spartans.
But, despite a good first half showing and some timely shooting in the second half to keep things close, the Hilltoppers weren’t able to keep pace in the end game.
Los Alamos trailed by just 6 points to Bernalillo at the end of the third quarter and by just 7 with about two minutes gone in the fourth quarter, withstanding a couple of Spartan fast break opportunities, but that wouldn’t be enough.
Bernalillo, itself trying to start anew after a tough nondistrict season, put together an impressive 10-2 run to close out the game, topping the Hilltoppers 62-47.
Spartan guard Carl Herrera had a huge fourth quarter, running the floor well in transition with his team dominating the boards. Herrera had 10 of his game-high 20 points in the final quarter to put things away — he also finished a perfect 10-for-10 from the foul line.
Hilltopper head coach Mike Kluk knew his team had a big opportunity to get its fortunes moving in the right direction, but it couldn’t take advantage.
“We got some stuff that we put in and things started to work for us,” said Kluk of the Hilltoppers’ offensive performance. “We got some open shots when we ran them. Our intensity was good for most of the game…hopefully that will carry us through to Santa Fe.”
The game was Kluk’s first 2-4A contest guiding the team after being installed as the interim head coach earlier this month after the sudden departure of Fil Dominguez.
While the overall effort for Los Alamos (1-17 overall, 0-1 in 2-4A) has seemed to improve under Kluk, generating offense continues to be an issue. Los Alamos hadn’t scored as many as 30 points in four of its previous five games prior to Wednesday.
Against Bernalillo, Skyler Veenis, who was a key element in the win over Bernalillo last month, again turned in a big performance. Veenis hit 7 of 9 attempts from the field to finish with 17 points, and his 3-pointer with just 3 seconds remaining in the third quarter put his team within 6 points of the Spartans.
Unfortunately, Los Alamos wouldn’t be able to muster much offense for the balance of the game. It hit just one field goal in the fourth quarter and finished the quarter with just 5 points.
Bernalillo (6-11, 1-0) is in a similar position to Los Alamos at the start of this district season, getting off to a slow start, although it has performed better in recent outings, earning victories over Albuquerque Academy and Belen.
Wednesday’s win was the third straight for the Spartans.
“Our intensity picked up a little bit,” Bernalillo veteran head coach Terry Darnell said of the fourth quarter. “We made some stops and we got some easy buckets in transition. When we got ahead by 10 points, you could see (the Hilltoppers) get down.”
Los Alamos trailed 37-29 at the break, but got six points in the third quarter from point guard Franklin Archuleta, who finished with 13 before fouling out late in the game.
Los Alamos outscored Bernalillo 13-11 in the third quarter, taking advantage of eight Spartan turnovers, but beyond Archuleta and Veenis, the team only produced two points in the second half.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers limited the touches of center Santiago Dominguez in the second half after Dominguez dropped in 8 points in the first half.
Josh Urban was the only other Spartan in double-figures Wednesday, scoring 12 points.