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JACONA – What started out appearing to be its best quarter of the night turned into a struggle for the upset-minded Los Alamos Hilltoppers Monday night.
In the first round of the Ben Lujan Invitational, the Hilltoppers erased a 3-point deficit at the half against the Pojoaque Elks and went on to grab a 25-23 lead. But the Hilltoppers were held scoreless in the final 4:07 of the third quarter as the Elks took full control of the ballgame.
Pojoaque closed out the quarter on a 13-0 run. Los Alamos pushed back late to give itself a chance to tie with time winding down, but couldn’t get off many good shots in a 48-42 defeat in the first round of the Ben Lujan Invitational.
Los Alamos slipped into the consolation bracket and faced off against Peñasco today, winning that contest 54-42 and advancing to the fifth-place game Wednesday.
Monday’s game assured that there will be a new Ben Lujan Invitational champion. Los Alamos was the two-time defending champ in the tournament, knocking off Pojoaque in the title game in 2009 and Socorro in 2008.
Only two schools in the 11-year history of the tournament have won it, Los Alamos and Pojoaque.
The tournament was originally an all-girls affair but was expanded to include a boys’ bracket in 2000.
The girls’ tournament is in its 19th year.
Monday’s contest largely consisted of one team putting runs together and the other countering. Pojoaque scored 10 straight points in the first quarter but Los Alamos scored five quick points late in the quarter to stay close.
Los Alamos trailed 10-7 after one quarter, then rallied from a seven-point deficit with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter to keep the spread at three points.
The Hilltoppers (1-8) got a pair of late second half buckets beating the Elk full-court pressure and finding open men underneath the basket. However, aside from two buckets by Travis Richins and another by Nick Baker, the Hilltoppers couldn’t take any further advantage, even with numbers on their side on several different press-break chances.
Richins, who has given Los Alamos a much-needed offensive presence in the low post, had 12 points Monday (6 of 7 shooting from the field), equaling the team-leading total of Thomas Russell, who scored 10 of his 12 in the final period trying to rally the Hilltoppers from 11 points down.
Russell hit a big 3-pointer off a defensive stop midway through the final quarter to cut Elks’ lead to seven and Baker’s jumper with 3:17 remaining got the Hilltoppers within six, but they would never get closer.
Baker finished with nine points.
Luke Salazar, point guard for the Elks (6-4) finished with 20 points. Salazar, at one point in the second quarter, had 12 of the Elks’ 16 points.
Ben Lujan Invitational
Bernalillo 79, Peñasco 50
Mesa Vista 62, Socorro 61
Bosque 43, Taos 42
Pojoaque 48, Los Alamos 42
Taos 57, Socorro 51
Los Alamos 54, Peñasco 42
Bosque vs. Mesa Vista, 5:30 p.m.
Bernalillo vs. Pojoaque, 7 p.m.
Seventh-place game, 11:30 a.m.
Fifth-place game, 2:30 p.m.
Third-place game, 5:30 p.m.
Championship, 8:30 p.m.
Española Valley 55, Peñasco 38
West Las Vegas 52, Bernalillo 37
Taos 55, Socorro 40
Pojoaque 51, Cimarron 44
Peñasco vs. Bernalillo, 1 p.m.
Socorro vs. Cimarron, 2:30 p.m.
Española Valley vs. West Las Vegas, 4 p.m.
Taos vs. Pojoaque, 8:30 p.m.
Seventh-place game, 10 a.m.
Fifth-place game, 1 p.m.
Third-place game, 4 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m.