Boys basketball: Big 4th quarter lifts LA to win

-A A +A
By Mike Cote

For three quarters of Los Alamos’ game Saturday night, it was in danger of keeping the door open for Farmington.

In the fourth quarter, that door got slammed shut.

The Hilltopper boys basketball team turned a 3-point edge after the third quarter into a rout by the halfway point in the fourth quarter and kept going to take a big 70-46 win over Farmington’s Scorpions Saturday night at Griffith Gymnasium. The Hilltoppers dropped in a whopping 31 points in the final eight minutes, executing a textbook transition game to get uncontested layups on their end of the floor.

Guards Zach Parks, Doug Hardy and Wade Archuleta combined to score 15 points off fast break chances in the fourth quarter and still got it to the big man inside, Alex Kirk, who was good for another 12 points.

“We started rebounding like we should’ve,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said after the game. “We put pressure on their shooters defensively.”

With the big finish leading to the 24-point victory — all four of Los Alamos’ wins this season have been by 10 points or more — some might forget that the score was tied at 36 apiece with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

Farmington (0-3), which is much improved from a season ago, made a strong push in the middle quarters to erase a 12-point deficit with some streaky outside shooting.

Led by Cody Conaway on the wing, who had all of his team-high 14 points in the second and third quarters, the Scorpions had the Hilltoppers trying to find the right defensive combination to slow them down.

Conaway hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter, the final tying the game at 29 with just under five minutes remaining in the period.

Farmington would never retake the early 8-3 lead it earned in the first period, however, before Los Alamos went on another impressive run. Los Alamos scored 17 straight points over the next six minutes to retake control.

But Alex Kirk said his squad started to get complacent in the second quarter.

“We relaxed on defense a little bit,” said the 6-11 junior center. “They got the ball into the middle, then popped it out to the corner to (Conaway).”

Going into the contest, Los Alamos planned to focus most of its defensive energy on slowing down Shane McGrath. McGrath, a post player who can run the floor as well as a guard, had been the Scorpions’ leading scorer heading into Saturday’s game.

While McGrath did get loose early and hit a pair of 3s in the first half, he was silent in the second half.

Kirk, meanwhile, finished the contest with a season-high 33 points, connecting on 12 of 17 shots from the floor and 9 of 11 from the foul line.

Parks, for his part, had 13 points and seven assists, while Archuleta led a good effort from the Hilltopper bench with his seven points.

Defensively, Los Alamos forced 14 Farmington turnovers, including six in the final quarter.

The Scorpions managed just a 17 of 45 shooting night (37.8 percent) and got to the free throw line just seven times. McGrath finished with eight points, as did Steve Philbrick.

Doug Hardy had eight rebounds from the guard spot for the Hilltoppers (4-1), who controlled the boards throughout Saturday’s contest.

The win was the third in a row and the third of the week for Los Alamos, which is looking toward one of the more challenging weeks of the season coming up. Los Alamos will face a bruising Belen squad, then take on Class AAAA’s top-ranked team, Albuquerque Academy, just two days later.

Coach Kirk said his team can’t afford to let Belen or Academy stay in the game if Los Alamos can get up on them.