Boys basketball: LA hits 33 free throws in district-opening win at Taos

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By Mike Cote

TAOS — Following Wednesday’s game, the free throw lines on the floor at Taos may have to be repainted.In its District 2AAAA opener, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity basketball team shot a whopping 48 foul shots, thanks to 29 fouls by the Taos Tigers.The Tigers wanted to take the Hilltoppers out of their offensive sets with hard fouls in the paint, most of them landing on the person of Alex Kirk.But Kirk and the rest of the Hilltopper squad were up to the challenge Wednesday, nailing 33 of those 48 attempts en route to a big 70-50 win over Taos.Wednesday’s game was the district debut for both schools.“It’s a very hard game to play,” Hilltopper shooting guard Martin Romero said. “It gets you out of your rhythm, out of your tempo. When you go to the line instead of running the floor, which we like to do, it’s hard.”Taos bludgeoned Kirk, Los Alamos’ 6-foot, 9-inch sophomore center, every time he went up for a shot in the second quarter. He got off just one quick shot in the quarter — which was off-target — without getting hacked.But Kirk made the Tigers pay, calmly sinking all 10 of his free throws in the second quarter to help the ’Toppers build a 36-31 lead at the half.Kirk would go on to finish the night with 24 points on a 16 of 19 performance from the charity stripe. Defensively, Kirk swatted eight Tiger shots.Over the course of the season, Kirk has emerged as one of the best big men in the state, and has already started to attract interest from college squads. The University of New Mexico sent three representatives to Taos Wednesday to have a chat with the sophomore and his dad, Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk.Los Alamos actually trailed after one quarter of play, with Taos driving into the paint and putting up floaters just over Kirk’s reach. Taos point guard Josh Romero hit a pair of floaters in the first quarter as Taos moved ahead 10-3 at the 2:49 mark of the opening quarter.The Hilltoppers would go on to score the final six points of the quarter to cut the Tiger edge to 10-9. The ’Toppers finished the first quarter with just one field goal, a 3-pointer by guard Nik Allen.Then the fouls came.Los Alamos shot a grand total of 16 free throws in the second quarter, hitting 15 of them.Taos stayed with Los Alamos through most of the second quarter by hitting four 3-pointers, two each by Chris Baca and Jim Armijo.In the third quarter, however, Los Alamos started to pull away.With the game knotted at 36, Hilltopper guard Doug Hardy came off the bench and scored six straight points, two of them coming when he stole the ball from Baca and took it back the other way for a bucket to give Los Alamos a four-point edge, a lead Los Alamos would never surrender.Hardy would finish with eight points coming off the bench.Coach Kirk said Hardy's performance was a big help after what he thought was a sluggish showing on offense."I thought we came out a little slow," Kirk said. "We missed some shots early. Finally when we got going, it was fine."Allen had 13 points Wednesday, six in the fourth quarter, and Romero added 11 more, nine of those coming in the first half.“It felt good,” Romero said of his performance. “When I have to step up, it’s no big deal. It doesn’t matter who steps up. We’re a team. As long as we get the win, it doesn’t matter who it is.”The win was the third straight for the Hilltoppers (13-6 overall, 1-0 in 2AAAA), who picked the right time to go on a winning streak.Their next match-up will prove a taller order, as it comes Saturday when they host the Española Valley Sundevils. The Sundevils (17-1) are ranked as high as No. 1 in some statewide basketball polls and have won 17 straight following a loss to Gallup in their first game of the season.That game will be Española Valley’s 2AAAA opener.

NOTES: Also in District 2AAAA Wednesday, Capital defeated Bernalillo 65-57 in the district opener for both of those schools ... Romero will miss Saturday’s game against Española Valley. He will be making an official visit to Adams State College (Colo.) to meet with the men’s track and field team.

Los Alamos 70, Taos 50Los Alamos (13-6, 1-0) — Ben Allen 1-5 3-4 5, Michael Helland 2-4 1-2 5, Nik Allen 4-10 4-6 13, Martin Romero 2-5 7-8 11, Alex Kirk 4-8 16-19 24, Chris Hejde 1-5 2-2 4, Doug Hardy 4-7 0-0 8, Matt Leyba 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 18-44 33-48 70.

Taos (7-10, 0-1) — Josh Romero 4-7 0-1 8, Chris Baca 3-6 0-0 8, Carlos Martinez 3-7 2-2 8, Josh Yachinich 2-17 2-2 8, Jim Armijo 3-6 3-6 11, Goyo Alvarez 1-4 0-1 2, JC Mitchell 1-5 1-2 3, Elizardo Gurule 0-0 2-2 2, Emilio DeHererra 0-4 0-0 0, Johnny Cordova 0-0 0-0 0, Ryan Ortega 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-56 10-16 50.

Team 1Qtr 2Qtr 3Qtr 4Qtr FinalLos Alamos 9 27 12 22 70Taos 10 21 9 10 50

3-Point Goals — Los Alamos 1-9 (N. Allen 1-4, B. Allen 0-3, Romero 0-1, Hejde 0-1), Taos 4-12 (Baca 2-3, Armijo 2-4, DeHererra 0-2, Romero 0-1, Martinez 0-1, Yachinich 0-1). Fouled out — Armijo (4th, 4:10), J. Romero (4th, 2:40), Mitchell (4th, :01). Totals fouls — Los Alamos 16, Taos 29. Technicals — None.