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Boys basketball: Hilltoppers fall to Jaguars, 54-49

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — If Los Alamos wants the District 2AAAA championship this season, it’s going to have to earn it the hard way.Capital leapfrogged Los Alamos Friday night in the district race, winning 54-49 at Edward Ortiz Gymnasium. The loss dropped Los Alamos to third place in the district standings with just one game left to play.Following a slow start Friday, the Hilltoppers looked to be on a roll and on their way to a big road win.But in the fourth quarter, Capital center Dylan Chavez singlehandedly took over the game, scoring 12 of his 15 points to put the Jaguars over the top. Chavez dropped in 10 points in a little over three minutes to start the fourth quarter, his one-man scoring run interrupted only briefly by a lone Los Alamos free throw conversion.Los Alamos, after falling behind by as many as nine points early in the second quarter, started getting into rhythm offensively and led 38-35 by the end of the third quarter.The Jaguars (20-7 overall, 5-2 in 2AAAA) now have sole possession of second place behind Española Valley (23-1 overall, 6-0 in 2AAAA), which topped Bernalillo 74-59 Friday. There are numerous scenarios in which Española Valley can clinch the district regular season crown this week.Los Alamos (16-9 overall, 4-3 in 2AAAA) was officially eliminated from regular season title contention with Friday’s loss, but with Bernalillo’s loss Friday night, Los Alamos can’t fall any lower regardless of what happens in the season finale this Saturday.During the week of Feb. 25, Los Alamos will host the District 2AAAA tournament quarterfinals against the winner of a Taos-Bernalillo opening round game. The winner of the quarterfinal will face the Jaguars in the 2AAAA semifinals.Hilltopper center Alex Kirk, who was injured in the first half the first meeting against Capital, a game won on a shot at the buzzer by Martin Romero, had 16 points and seven blocked shots Friday.Capital didn’t shy away from going up against the 6-foot-9 Kirk, driving down the baseline to challenge the sophomore.While Kirk was generally up to the challenge, the Hillltoppers’ backside rebounding was flimsy, leading to some big second-chance points for the Jaguars.Kirk said he wasn’t a bit surprised Capital drove at him, something most opponents this season have been reluctant to do.“In the first quarter of the last game, their coach called two timeouts in the first quarter and yelled at them for not coming at me more,” he said.On offense, Kirk connected on six straight shots at one stretch. On defense, Kirk swatted five Capital shot attempts during the middle quarters as the Hilltoppers looked to be taking control of the contest.In the third quarter with Capital clinging to a 3-point lead, two-guard Ben Allen buried a 3-pointer to tie the score at the 3:21 mark, then hit a jumper on a fast-break opportunity less than 30 seconds later to give Los Alamos a 36-34 edge.Allen, who came up big in the second half of the teams’ first meeting, dropped in 11 points Friday, the only other Hilltopper to get into double-figures. Doug Hardy had six points coming off the bench, including a couple of buckets on big fourth quarter possessions.But in the fourth quarter, Los Alamos turned the ball over six times — it had coughed up the ball only eight times in the previous three quarters — twice during Chavez’s scoring spree.Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said after the game his squad let Capital control the tempo too much Friday, which made a big difference in the endgame.Luis Muñoz had 13 points for the Jaguars, while Pablo Martinez finished with nine points, all of them coming in the first quarter as he led the Jaguars to a 13-6 lead after one.Los Alamos looked like it might have a chance to pull off some more fourth quarter magic when Chris Hejde hit a 3-pointer with 44 seconds remaining, pulling his team to within three, but Los Alamos wouldn’t get another good shot off in regulation.