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Boys basketball: Toppers advance in tourney with 68-51 win

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By Mike Cote

Just in case they needed it, members of the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team had the Magic Kingdom on their side Tuesday.Or, more precisely, the Hilltoppers had it on their shoulders.The Hilltoppers sported Disney princess temporary tattoo line they bought from a Pizza Hut vending machine at a team dinner Monday. But they wouldn’t need any fairy dust in a solid District 2AAAA tournament win.Los Alamos survived a pair of runs by the Bernalillo Spartans in the first half, one to close out the first quarter and one midway through the second quarter to knock off the Spartans 68-51 at Griffith Gymnasium.Tuesday’s win was not only the third time this season Los Alamos prevailed over a solid-if-unspectacular Bernalillo ballclub, it was the second time in four days the two teams had met at Griffith Gym. Los Alamos beat Bernalillo in the teams’ regular season finale Saturday by a nearly identical score of 69-51.“It’s tough beating a team three times,” Hilltopper guard Doug Hardy said. “But we executed well (Tuesday). We found their weaknesses and capitalized on those. We were able to do that all three games.”Hardy, who was showing off his Ariel the Little Mermaid tattoo to a couple of female fans after the game, had eight points coming off the bench to help the cause Tuesday.In all, nine Hilltoppers scored. It was another well-balanced scoring effort by Los Alamos, which had eight players in the scoring column Saturday.The win moved Los Alamos, the district’s three seed, into Thursday night’s 2AAAA semifinal game at Capital. The two teams finished the season with identical 5-3 district records and split their two district meetings, but Capital’s Jaguars won the tiebreaker, aggregate score, by three points.Bernalillo was knocked out of the district tournament with the loss and will have to wait for the seeding committee to decide this weekend whether it earned an at-large bid into the Class AAAA playoffs. Because 2AAAA is considered the toughest basketball district in the class, an at-large nod isn’t out of the realm of possibility, despite a marginal 11-16 record this season (2-7 in 2AAAA).Los Alamos put Tuesday’s game away with a back-breaking 15-4 run in the fourth quarter.With the game’s outcome still very much in doubt, forward Michael Helland hit a short bucket amid some heavy traffic to start things rolling.Martin Romero scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter, three of them off a hoop-and-harm putback with 5:46 left in the quarter to put Los Alamos up 50-40. Ben Allen, who had 12 points, hit a pair of fast-break buckets in a row and Alex Kirk threw down a thunderous dunk off another quick turnover less than a minute later, also in transition.The Spartans had no answer for the quick onslaught of scoring.“Fatigue really set in for them,” Hardy said. “We broke people off the press-break, we got steals. It was a combination of their fatigue and us capitalizing on it.”To advance to Tuesday’s game at Griffith Gym, Bernalillo had to beat Taos Monday.“They had a tough game (Monday),” Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said. “Scoring 82 points, that’s a lot of running up and down the floor.”Along with that, the Hilltopper defense, which came up big Saturday night, did its job again. Los Alamos allowed just 18 Bernalillo points in the first half — only seven in the second quarter — and held a solid-shooting team to a lackluster 18 of 52 performance from the field (34.6 percent).Only Chris Garnand cracked the double-digit ceiling, picking up 13 points for Bernalillo. Kellen Quintana, who Los Alamos particularly wanted to keep an eye on coming into the game, had a quiet six-point outing.Both Kirk and Ben Allen picked up double-doubles Tuesday. Allen had 10 assists to go along with his 12 points and seven rebounds. Kirk had 10 points and 10 rebounds despite sitting out the entire second quarter after picking up two fouls in the first quarter.Nik Allen led all scorers with 17 points and had seven assists in the contest. Ben and Nik combined for 19 assists Saturday.Coach Kirk said he was impressed by the total team effort.“The kids played hard,” he said. “We turned it up an extra notch at the end. It was good to see how they played up and down the floor.”About the only nagging question from Tuesday’s game was, after a good top-to-bottom showing with them, whether Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the other Disney princess tatts would remain on the Hilltoppers’ shoulders for the duration of the tournament.The answer: probably not.“We all thought it was a good idea, but we don’t have any superstitions,” Hardy said.