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They will live to play at least one more day. That day is today.
In the opening round of the District 2AAAA boys basketball tournament, Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers took control in the third quarter, then hung on in the tense late moments to pick up a win over the Bernalillo Spartans and advance to the quarterfinals.
Bernalillo’s Brandon Saiz was fouled behind the 3-point circle with under :03 remaining with a chance to tie Monday’s ballgame, but, after hitting his first two free throw attempts, couldn’t convert the final attempt. The miss gave the Hilltoppers a 41-40 victory in the opening round and puts them in tonight’s second round.
Los Alamos (7-20 overall, 3-6 in 2AAAA) will face Santa Fe at Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium. The winner of tonight’s game will move on to Thursday’s semifinal at Capital and put itself in position to earn at least an at-large invitation to the Class 4A state tournament.
“We’re playing for our life,” Hilltopper guard Nick Baker said following the victory.
Baker played a huge role in keeping his team alive Monday. After a quiet first half, Baker scored nine of Los Alamos’ 15 points in the third quarter as the team held a 30-27 lead heading into the final eight minutes.
Baker and Thomas Russell, both juniors, combined for 31 of Los Alamos’ 41 points. Russell had the touch from long range, converting 4 of 7 attempts from 3-point range.
The Spartans (11-13 overall, 3-6 in 2AAAA) who lost both of their District 2AAAA regular season games to the Hilltoppers, went into the tournament straight off possibly the biggest upset of the year in Class 4A. The Spartans knocked off the Española Valley Sundevils, the district champs who had not lost a 2AAAA game in more than three calendar years, 59-58 at Española Saturday night.
Bernalillo led for much of the first half Monday, but an early third quarter 3-pointer by Baker gave the Hilltoppers the lead at 18-17.
Los Alamos, which sported a slow, ball-control offense all season, came out running in the second half, something that seemed to catch Bernalillo by surprise.
“It was the plan. We had to push the ball in transition,” Hilltopper head coach Matt King said. “Our defense was really good in stretches of the third quarter. We ended up with some leak-outs and we had some chances in transition.”
Baker, Russell and Bobby Sanders were the beneficiaries of the transition game and took advantage.
“Everyone’s able to run, that really helped a lot,” Baker said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times, that’s what everyone says. They know what you’re going to do…we had to change it up.”
Los Alamos broke Bernalillo’s full-court pressure on several occasions in the third quarter, leading to some quick-strike baskets and could’ve led to several more but Los Alamos committed some unforced turnovers on three other chances.
In the final period, the Spartans took a short-lived lead with just over two minutes to play, but Russell, making up for a lackluster Hilltopper foul shooting performance up to that point, drained both ends of a 1-and-1 chance to tie the score.
Baker would do likewise with :24.3 remaining and Russell knocked in two more chances with just :09 left.
Bernalillo, trailing 41-38 and down to its final chance, gave the ball to Saiz, a sophomore, who had a decent 3-point look with :02.7 left, but was hacked as he went up — his shot caught just enough iron to go off.
Saiz swished his first two free throw attempts, but the third nicked the back of the iron and bounced off, preserving the Hilltopper victory.
Los Alamos 41, Bernalillo 40
Be. 10 7 10 13—40
LA 7 8 15 11—41
Bernalillo — Trey Darnell 1-10 3-4 6, Stephen Lujan 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon Saiz 2-6 5-7 10, Joe Kloeppel 2-6 0-0 4, Jordan Ludi 1-2 2-2 4, Omar Luna 0-2 4-4 4, Jacob Martin 1-3 5-5 7, Ryan Garcia 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 9-28 19-22 40.
Los Alamos — Thomas Russell 6-12 4-6 20, Bobby Sanders 3-9 0-1 6, Nick Baker 3-8 4-4 11, Travis Richins 1-1 0-2 2, David Knapp 1-1 0-1 2, Nate Carver 0-0 0-0 0, Daniel Salazar 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 14-33 8-14 41.
3-point goals — Bernalillo 3-12 (Garcia 1-1, Saiz 1-2, Darnell 1-7, Lujan 0-1, Martin 0-1), Los Alamos 5-11 (Russell 4-7, Baker 1-2, Sanders 0-1, Salazar 0-1). Total fouls — Bern. 15, LA 19. Fouled out — Knapp (4th, :02.7). Technicals — None.