Boys basketball: Hawks knock off Hilltoppers at home Tuesday

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By Mike Cote

Facing his former program, Los Alamos boys basketball head coach Matt King had a pretty good idea what to expect.
The Hilltoppers were looking for a physical, pressure defense and good free throw shooting from the Volcano Vista Hawks and that’s exactly what they saw Tuesday night in a46-38 loss.
And while the Hilltoppers handled the pressure reasonably well Tuesday, the clutch foul shooting of Volcano Vista’s Mario Molina would ultimately decide the game.
Molina drained 10 of 11 chances from the stripe, including all three attempts after being fouled behind the arc midway through the third quarter. Those free throws seemed to be the spark the Class 5A Hawks needed to break open what had been up to that point a tight ballgame.
In that third quarter, the Hawks held the Hilltoppers to just four points en route to their eight-point victory, spoiling the Hilltoppers’ first home appearance in more than a month.
Not only was Volcano Vista King’s most recent stop before joining Los Alamos’ program last spring, the two teams met twice during off-season workouts in the summer and saw many of the same things he saw Tuesday.
“They had us down 29-8 at the half,” King said of one his team’s summer contests against the Hawks. “They turned us over 15 or 20 in the first half. We play a lot of teams that pressure us…tonight was a good step forward in getting better, improving. That’s encouraging.”
The turnover numbers still weren’t the Hilltoppers (4-11) were hoping for, particularly with the District 2AAAA opener just two weeks away. The Hilltoppers still coughed up the ball 21 times in the contest, although some of that could be attributed to the drumhead-tight officiating of traveling and carrying violations.
Once again, Los Alamos’ defense carried the team through most of the contest, allowing just 18 points in the first half and 29 points through three quarters. Volcano Vista only managed 13 field goals on the night.
Unfortunately for Los Alamos, its offense fared no better. Los Alamos had just 13 field goals of its own, with only two of those coming in the third quarter. Los Alamos was shut out for an eight-minute stretch between the third and fourth periods.
“It’s frustrating, but every game we go out there, it gets better and better,” said Hilltopper David Knapp, who had three steals Tuesday. “We’re coming along as we go.”
Los Alamos has finished with 50 points or better just once in its last five games and just five times in 15 outings this season.
Hilltopper guard Thomas Russell, who went through hot-and-cold streaks throughout, finished with a game-high 18 points. Nick Baker added 12 points, but just three other Hilltoppers got into the scoring column, none of them finishing with more than four.
Molina, who hit nine straight free throws — his lone miss came in the first quarter, a shot that rolled around the cylinder before skipping out — finished with 15 points, while slashing point guard Sam Haywood dropped in 11 points for the Hawks (6-4).
Tuesday was the third home game of the season for Los Alamos, which spent all but the first day of December on the road, playing in three straight tournaments.
The Hilltoppers now have a full week off. King said the Hilltoppers will spend the bulk of their practice time working on their offense in preparation for a key nondistrict contest next week against St. Pius X, one of the team’s chief rivals and one it could well have to beat out to earn an at-large bid in the playoffs should that situation arise.