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For three quarters of Thursday’s boys basketball game, it was a battle between two of the premier players in northern New Mexico.
But in the fourth quarter, the supporting cast of the Los Alamos Hilltoppers came up huge to ice a big nondistrict win at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Hilltoppers won their home opener Thursday with an impressive team performance in the final quarter, taking a 62-52 win over the St. Michael’s Horsemen.
Los Alamos’ Alex Kirk and St. Michael’s Jordan Romero were dominant in the first half of Thursday’s contest, combining for 32 of the 60 points scored between the two teams.
Kirk finished with 21 of his game-high 28 points in the first half, while Romero — a five-year starter for the Horsemen — hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to finish with 11 first half points.
But after three hotly-contested quarters, St. Michael’s tried to double- and triple-team Kirk whether or not he had the ball, opening up the floor for the other Hilltoppers. Austin Wolstein hit three buckets in the fourth quarter and guards Doug Hardy and Jack Russell combined for eight points as the Hilltoppers outscored the Horsemen 17-8 to seal the win.
On the other end of the court, Zach Parks was given the task of manning-up on Romero on a box-and-1 alignment. Parks was up to the challenge, as Romero had just four points after halftime.
“It wasn’t a lot of pressure, it was actually really fun,” Parks said of his defensive assignment. “Playing a guy with skills like that, it’s pretty much an honor. You know he’s going to put up points. You’re not going to stop him, you’re just trying to slow him down.”
“We told him, ‘your job is to harass him all night,’” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “Zach did a super job. He couldn’t have done much better.”
Meanwhile, Kirk, with a scout from Stanford University in the crowd there to watch him, went 8 of 12 from the floor in the first half and 5 of 6 from the foul line. Kirk added seven more points in the third quarter, but got all of St. Michael’s attention in the final quarter.
Instead of trying to force the action against St. Mike’s, Kirk dished out three assists in the final quarter, finding cutters on the back side including Wolstein, who hit all four of the shots he took Thursday, all of them at close range.
Wolstein said he was breathing a sigh of relief after the clock hit all zeroes.
“It was intense,” he said. “When they played their defense on Alex, it gave other people a lot of opportunities to make plays. The double-team gave me some more opportunities to make cuts.”
Kirk said he thought this was the first time Los Alamos had beaten St. Michael’s (0-1) since head coach Ron Geyer took over the program. Geyer, one of the most respected coaches in the state, has had his team playing at a high-level throughout his tenure.
The two teams were tied at 16 after one quarter Tuesday with Kirk finishing with 12 of those points, while Romero had nine of his team’s points.
Los Alamos held a two-point edge at the half, but St. Michael’s buried three 3-pointers in the third quarter to trim the Hilltopper lead down to one heading into the final eight minutes.
Los Alamos forward Michael Helland had a hand in several key plays in the third quarter while St. Michael’s was trying to make its push.
Helland knocked in a 3-pointer at the 1:47 mark to give the Hilltoppers a 43-40 lead after a St. Michael’s 8-2 run had given it a four-point advantage. With just :06 remaining, a nifty reverse layup by Helland put Los Alamos back up 44-43 heading into the final quarter.
Helland finished with seven points and three rebounds Thursday, while Hardy had seven points from his guard spot.
Parks and Wolstein finished with eight points. Kirk had eight rebounds to lead the team and Roger Anaya finished with a pair of boards.
Elijah Garcia finished with 11 points for the Horsemen and Michael Yardman-Smith picked up 10 points.
“It was a huge win for us,” Parks said. “We know the caliber of team they are. We’re trying to build our program so we have the same type of tradition they have.”
Los Alamos shot a red-hot 21 of 34 as a team Thursday (61.8 percent) and was 16 of 18 from the free throw line.
St. Mike’s finished 20-for-45 from the field.
It was the second-straight win for the Hilltoppers (3-1), who polished off Moriarty 75-52 Tuesday night.
“With a young team, experience-wise ... they have to grow,” Kirk said. “I saw that last night.”