Boys basketball: Capital rallies to knock off LA by 3

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By Mike Cote

With just one quarter remaining, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team looked like it was about to take a big step toward slamming the district’s front door shut.

With zeroes on the clock, the District 2AAAA chase was once again wide open.

Los Alamos appeared to have the momentum going its way heading into the fourth quarter Wednesday night and definitely had a 12-point lead over the Capital Jaguars, then things went south.

Capital reeled off an impressive 29 points in the final eight minutes to upend Los Alamos 61-58 Wednesday night at Griffith Gymnasium and spoil the Hilltoppers’ bid for an undefeated first round of 2AAAA play. Capital’s fourth quarter output nearly matched what it had done in the first three quarters put together — it went into the final quarter trailing Los Alamos 44-32.

In the final quarter, the Jaguars were creating Hilltopper turnovers and setting themselves up for easy buckets on the other end. They finished with 17 points in transition in the final period.

“They stepped up the pressure and we lost our composure, but the big thing was our defense in the second half,” Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said. “We didn’t play the kind of defense we played in the first half.

Los Alamos struggled to stop Capital throughout the quarter, in which Capital converted 12 field goals, almost equal to the number it had in the previous three quarters.

Also Wednesday, Los Alamos, which had taken good care of the basketball throughout the first three quarters, coughed it up eight times in the fourth period. It lost the ball only eight times in the contest prior to the fourth.

“We want to step up pressure on the ball,” Jaguar head coach Ben Gomez said. “At the same time, we didn’t want to let them go right by us. Our weak side helped out very well.”

The Hilltopper went into Wednesday;s game having beaten the other three teams in district, Taos, Bernalillo and Española Valley. In their last outing, Friday night at Española Valley, the Hilltoppers upended the top-ranked school in AAAA 59-53 to jump into first place in the district standings.

A win over Capital Wednesday would’ve made Los Alamos a perfect 4-0 with two tough second round games — against Bernalillo and Española Valley — being played at Griffith Gym.

Their win Wednesday, however, breathed new life into the Jaguars and the Bernalillo Spartans, although the Spartans were taken to the woodshed by Española Valley’s Sundevils Wednesday, losing 103-87.

“Our thing is we want to create a little mix-up (in the district) to give us a chance,” Gomez said. “We want to take this energy and keep rolling ... but you’ve got to play hard every night or you can get a loss real quick.”

Capital’s comeback was improbable at best Wednesday, with Los Alamos dictating most of the action on both sides of the court for the bulk of the game.

With center Alex Kirk clogging up the middle of the lane, Capital was forced to take tough shots throughout.

Even before the fourth quarter, though, Capital was able to take advantage of fast breaks coming off turnovers, something that got it an early 13-6 in the first period.

Before the end of the period, however, Los Alamos answered with nine straight points in the final 2:23 to hold an edge. Kirk converted a 3-point play and hit a smooth jumper from the baseline late in the quarter as part of his 11 points in the opening period.

In the contest, the Jagaurs’ buckets were hard to come by. They scored just 10 points in the second quarter and followed that up with just nine points in the third quarter.

Moreover, the Jaguars didn’t get to the free throw line much, reaching the stripe just eight times Wednesday and only hitting four of those attempts. Los Alamos, by contrast, hit 17 foul shots in 20 tries.

While Kirk had a big night for Los Alamos, finishing with 32 points — eight points more than the next two top scorers Wednesday put together — and grabbing 11 rebounds, Los Alamos didn’t get another scorer in double-figures.

Corey Clark, whom coach Kirk praised for his solid defensive effort, finished with nine points, seven in the first half. Doug Hardy had eight points, all of them coming on quick moves to the basket. Only two other Hilltoppers scored in the game.

For Capital (12-9 overall, 2-2 in 2AAAA), Marc Maes had 14 points and Jonathan Rodriguez chipped in 10 points coming off the bench.

“I think they know they missed an opportunity,” Kirk said of his players following the loss. “They knew they controlled their own destiny to sweep the first round. But 3-1 is not a bad place to be. I don’t think we could’ve predicted the games the way they’ve went.”