Boys basketball: LA comes up just short in OT battle

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Late free throws by Demons' Echave sinks 'Toppers at Griffith, 56-55

By Mike Cote

Thomas Russell’s steal late in the second overtime period might have been the play of the game.
Thomas Russell’s right leg, however, decided to give up on him at the most inopportune moment.
With the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team leading by one point with under a minute to play in the second overtime period, Russell stepped in front of a Santa Fe Demon pass about 12 feet from the timeline. Russell had a lane to the basket for, at worst, a trip to the foul line, but got a cramp in his right leg just as he started his shooting cycle.
Instead of a probable game-sealing layup, however, Russell fell to the floor, slid over the end line and took the ball with him.
That play, with 32.5 seconds remaining, gave the Demons, who just seconds before looked finished, new life.
On the ensuing possession, Santa Fe’s star center Orlando Echave was fouled away from the basket, sank both free throw chances, and gave the Demons a 56-55 double-OT District 2AAAA road win.
Unfortunately for Los Alamos (6-18 overall, 2-3 in 2AAAA), cramping was an issue throughout the second half, stalling the Hilltoppers on several big occasions.
Playing not only their second game in a row Tuesday at Griffith Gym, the Hilltoppers were also stingy with their bench playing time throughout the contest. Only two bench players — Daniel Salazar and Nate Carver — saw any action against Santa Fe (8-11, 2-2) and neither had more than a handful of minutes during the second half and the two overtime periods.
Not only was Russell — Los Alamos’ leading scorer with 18 points — felled by a cramp late, guard Nick Baker, suffered a cramp in the fourth quarter.
Baker, with a cramp hitting his left calf hard, turned in a gutsy fourth quarter and overtime effort. He finished with 17 points, 15 of them coming after the third quarter, including dropping in eight of the Hilltoppers’ 14 points in the fourth quarter to help them keep pace with the Demons.
It was a grueling effort for the Hilltoppers, who might have been able to change their 2AAAA fortunes around in a hurry with a win over the Demons.
“I’m tired, my legs are tired, but that’s to be expected,” said Los Alamos’ Travis Richins after the ballgame, following a tough toe-to-toe contest with Echave.
Echave, who dismantled the Hilltoppers in the teams’ first meeting, scoring 27 points as the Demons won 51-38 Jan. 22, still led all scorers with 21 points, but his touches were limited after a couple of baskets early in the first and second quarters.
A win Tuesday, however, would’ve put Los Alamos in third place and kept it alive for a shot at second place when it faces Capital next week.
While that scenario could still come to pass, the loss makes it that much tougher.
“There’s a lot of games left,” Los Alamos head coach Matt King said. “That was just Santa Fe’s fourth game. We’ve got two left. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played…we’ve got to battle like crazy.”
For Santa Fe, which started off the district season with a near-upset against 2AAAA favorite Española Valley on the road, a game in which the Demons led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over on several key possessions late, the team knew Los Alamos was upset-minded heading in.
“I told (the Demons), Los Alamos is going to beat somebody,” Santa Fe head coach David Rodriguez said. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t us.”
Santa Fe was upset by Bernalillo Jan. 28, a loss which Rodriguez said could very well come back to haunt his team when the district season is finished. Los Alamos, with its 49-40 victory at Bernalillo Monday, completed the season sweep of the Spartans.
Also Monday night, Española Valley broke open a tie ballgame against Capital in the second half, winning 62-44.