Boys basketball: LA suffers first loss of 2009

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — To keep its unbeaten streak alive, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team would need to play a clean game Thursday against the Rio Rancho Rams.

But 14 turnovers in the middle quarters Thursday night wasn’t even close to clean enough.

The Hilltoppers had their start-of-season 5-game win streak snapped by the Rams in the first round of the Joe Armijo Invitational Tournament. The Rams rallied in the latter part of the fourth quarter to turn a close contest into a rout, winning 79-61.

The loss dropped the Hilltoppers into the consolation side of the tournament, which is being hosted by Albuquerque Academy. The Hilltoppers were scheduled to play the St. Pius X Sartans this afternoon. The Sartans lost in the opening round of the tournament to the host Chargers 55-39.

Rio Rancho grabbed the lead midway through the second quarter, thanks in large part to the eight Hilltopper turnovers in the quarter, and never relinquished it.

Although Rio Rancho gradually pulled away from Los Alamos throughout the third quarter — it led 51-39 heading into the final period — Los Alamos put together a quick 10-3 run to open the fourth quarter. Austin Wolstein’s old-fashioned 3-point play with 5:31 remaining whittled the Rio Rancho lead down to just five points.

That would be the extent of the Hilltoppers’ comeback attempt, however. The Hilltoppers turned the ball over twice in their own backcourt in three possessions, leading to a pair of Rams’ baskets and moving their lead back into double-digits.

Hilltopper center Alex Kirk had a season-high 36 points, 23 of them coming in the second half and 16 of those scored in the fourth quarter, but three other starters combined for just 13 points.

“We made silly passes,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “We rushed our passes and they up-tempoed it. We let them control that.”

Heading into the first round, Los Alamos said it wanted to keep an eye on Rio Rancho’s point guard Lucas Archuleta. Although Archuleta got into early foul trouble, he still managed 21 points.

Wolstein finished with 12 points, hitting 5 of 8 attempts from the floor. Kirk was 12 of 17 from the floor and 10 of 13 at the foul line Thursday.