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If you’re a fan of fall sports, the month of October 2012 was your month.
More than any other, October featured the top contests of the year for the Hilltoppers.
Of the Los Alamos’ top 10 events of the calendar year, October features more entries, three, than any other month — although February just missed out matching that total by a few days. But with fall sports getting to their nitty-gritty in October, it’s easy to see why.
That particular month, the Hilltoppers had to duke it out with the Capital Jaguars, the Española Valley Sundevils and a team from the Midwestern United States.
As always, the Los Alamos Monitor takes a look back at the most exciting Hilltopper sporting events of the past 12 months. This list is, of course, completely subjective, but does take into account postseason implications, competitiveness and the all-important “gasp” factor. Only events attended by a Los Alamos Monitor representative were considered for this list.
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Hilltopper Contests of 2012:
10. Softball: St. Pius X at Los Alamos, May 5
The playoffs haven’t been kind in recent years to the Hilltopper softball team, so getting out of a late-inning jam was somewhat unexpected.
Los Alamos, the No. 6 seed in the Class 4A playoffs led 5-1 after six innings in the opening round at Overlook Park, but in the top of the seventh, the Sartans answered back. The Sartans scored three runs off Hilltopper ace Monika Teter in their final at-bat and put the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position with just one out.
Teter, who has been Los Alamos’ top pitcher since her freshman year, still had something left in the tank, however, as she was able to retire the final two batters to end the contest and put the Hilltoppers into the state quarterfinals.
Kristin Christensen and Erin Kirk both had big games at the plate, combining to drive in three runs against St. Pius.
9. Boys basketball: Capital at Los Alamos, Jan. 27
For as many wins as the Jaguars had early on in the District 2-4A season, they hadn’t been exactly blowing people out of the water.
On the flip side, Los Alamos needed a win to crank up its season. But, while Los Alamos came up short in this contest, it found a spark that helped it get through a grueling district season and into the postseason.
After going down 24-13 in the first half, Los Alamos was able to use its speed advantage to penetrate down the lane for buckets. With Capital trying to pack its defense into the middle, Thomas Russell hit a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to give Los Alamos a late lead.
Russell had 16 points for the Hilltoppers, who were up 50-47 with under a minute left, but Capital’s Mikey Lopez buried a 3-pointer of his own to tie the score. Lopez converted two free throws late on a questionable foul call near the baseline to seal the win.
8. Girls soccer: Strongsville, Ohio at Los Alamos, Oct. 11
More than one person thought this was a misprint on the Hilltoppers’ published schedule, but it was a bona fide game against what was then the No. 1 team in the country.
Los Alamos hosted the Strongsville, Ohio, Mustangs at Sullivan Field. And on this day, the Hilltoppers held their own.
While the Hilltoppers never got a sustained attack going against the Mustangs – Los Alamos was without its No. 2 offensive player, Catie McDonald, who was injured a few days earlier – the Hilltoppers were able to play the Mustangs to a draw for much of the contest.
The difference in the contest was Alexis Manoa of Strongsville. Manoa, who has a devastatingly powerful leg, drove in both the Mustangs’ goals in the opening half to give her team a 2-0 victory.
The Mustangs showed off some impressive speed and ball movement, but the Hilltopper defense, anchored by Stephanie Blair, was generally up to the challenge.
7. Boys soccer: Los Alamos vs. Los Lunas, Nov. 8
This Class 4A quarterfinal game pitted two powerful offenses and two inconsistent defenses, so the chances of fireworks seemed to go way up.
Instead, it was the defenses that held their ground.
Los Alamos’ defense was tasked with slowing down Alejandro Garcia, the most prolific scorer in 4A this season, but Garcia made little noise in this game, with Ben Stewart and Cameron Wilson coming up big throughout.
Hilltopper Nick Thoma, who just missed converting a flying header attempt in the first half, rebounded a Henry Steinkamp direct kick early in the second half to get Los Alamos on the board and Rohun Iyer scored on a corner kick late to give the Hilltoppers their third trip to the 4A semifinals in four years.
6. Wrestling: District 2-4A Championship, Feb. 11
Los Alamos felt it had a real shot at claiming the district title that had eluded it since 1995. That feeling proved to be completely right.
The Hilltoppers earned three individual District 2-4A titles on their way to an impressive win over all comers. They grabbed 156 team points, 23 more than any other team at the tournament.
Cory Geyer, Brian Geyer and Arnoldo Ortiz won individual titles, but Cory Geyer, Los Alamos’ top wrestler, had dogfights on his hands against both Santa Fe’s Jose Miramontes and Bernalillo’s Keonny Gonzales before ultimately prevailing.
Brian Geyer, meanwhile, had to come back from one of his top rivals, Jonah Schmelz of Santa Fe, before scoring a pin in his district title match.
5. Girls basketball: Bernalillo at Los Alamos, Feb. 21
The 2011-12 Hilltoppers could never quite get on track, although heading into this game, they had a chance to make up for a lot of their transgressions during the season.
Marissa Valencia, however, had other plans.
Valencia was on the bench as the Spartans slipped behind by as many as 7 points early in the fourth quarter of this, the quarterfinal round of the District 2-4A tournament. But with about six minutes remaining, Valencia caught fire, scoring 9 points and leading her team to a 36-33 victory.
The Spartans’ late second half comeback became necessary after the Hilltoppers got themselves together following a gnarly first half. They scored just seven points in the first half but put together some of their best basketball of the season during a 13-2 run to take control of the game – Hayley Each had 8 points during that run.
4. Track and field: Class 4A Championship, May 12-13
Los Alamos’ girls were seeking to move themselves into elite company by picking up their fourth consecutive state title. This one, far more so than the previous three, would be tight.
The Aztec Tigers, with big showings in the field events, gave Los Alamos a run for its money, but the Hilltoppers, led by one of the best athletes the team has ever showcased, Chase Ealey, came through to beat the Tigers 78-70 in the team standings.
Ealey, for the second year in a row, won three individual championships and finished as Class 4A’s high-point athlete, scoring 26 points in the meet.
In boys competition, Los Alamos, under first-year coach Matt Felton, got to within one point of taking home a third-place trophy, something the Hilltoppers weren’t even in the conversation of heading into the meet.
Junior Sean Reardon had the biggest meet of his career, upsetting heavy favorite Jackson Thomas of Del Norte for the state title in the 1,600 meters and leading Los Alamos to a stunning win in the 1,600 relay.
3. Boys soccer: Los Alamos at Capital, Oct. 23
For the second year in a row, Los Alamos and Capital found themselves meeting for all the district marbles in the Hilltoppers’ season finale.
But, instead of a disastrous play that would cost Los Alamos the game and the district title, as in 2011, it was Los Alamos that would make the key play of the contest, with the game-winner coming from an unlikely source.
The game didn’t start out the way the Hilltoppers were hoping, with the Jaguars getting on the board early.
Just six minutes in, Capital, utilizing its quick-strike capability up-top, took the lead.
Los Alamos might have gone into panic mode at that point, but instead rallied for two goals, both of them coming about a minute apart.
Los Alamos star midfielder Henry Steinkamp booted a ball through a pile-up near the Jaguar goal in the 11th minute to tie the contest.
Shortly after, Steinkamp sent a Hilltopper corner kick to the head of fullback Brady Stokes, his only goal of the 2012 regular season – Stokes would score another goal during the playoffs.
It was Stokes and goalkeeper Chris Parker that led Los Alamos’ defensive effort to thwart several attacks by the Jaguars the rest of the way to preserve the 2-1 win and ultimately the district title.
2. Volleyball: Española Valley at Los Alamos, Oct. 10
Feeling it had a shot at knocking the Hilltoppers off their perch in 2012, Española Valley came in fired up to Griffith Gymnasium for this early district season contest, particularly after Los Alamos had been upset by Santa Fe a few nights earlier.
This match went back-and-forth throughout, but the Hilltoppers would ultimately prevail in this five-set showdown.
The Sundevils got the early edge, winning the first set and holding a late lead in the second set before the Hilltoppers rallied to win. The Sundevils held on in the third set to put the Hilltoppers in a 2-1 hole.
But Los Alamos, needing to take set four to stay alive, got a big boost from senior Danielle Ortiz, who reeled off eight straight points to start, leading Los Alamos to a 25-8 win, the only set on the night that wasn’t decided by two points.
The Hilltoppers won the final set 15-13. Despite an uneven offensive performance on the night, the Hilltoppers still got a whopping 23 kills from senior Erin Kirk.
1. Baseball: Los Alamos at Española Valley, April 18
The final score of 10-5 is very misleading. This game was a nail-biter throughout.
With the Hilltoppers and Sundevils meeting late in the regular season with a first-place spot in District 2-4A up for grabs in Española Valley, both teams had chances to put this contest away and both let them slip.
Los Alamos, which had left the bases loaded three times in the game, led 3-1 late, but a four-run, sixth-inning rally by Española Valley gave it a 5-3 lead, the big blow of the inning a towering two-run home run by Jesus Chavez over the left field wall.
With the Hilltoppers down to their last batter and Sundevil reliever Derrick Valdez having retired 7 of the 8 batters he’d faced to that point, hitter Kyle Parks singled to left field to keep his team alive. After Valdez issued a pair of walks – he hadn’t had to pitch out of the stretch before Parks’ single and looked uncomfortable doing so – Jake Downs came through with a two-run single, sparking a 7-run Hilltopper rally.
The Hilltoppers would go on to claim the 2012 district title but would be bounced out of the playoffs early, getting swept by Miyamura in the opening round.