Boys basketball: Toppers hold on to beat Warriors

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By Mike Cote

JACONA — In the final two rounds of the Ben Lujan Invitational, Los Alamos had to fend off a pair of scrappy squads.

In the end, however, the Hilltopper boys basketball team kept the Elks and Warriors at bay to win the ninth annual tournament Saturday night.

Just one night after scraping its way out of a double-digit hole to knock off the host Pojoaque Elks, Los Alamos had to stave off numerous comeback attempts by Socorro.

Socorro battled back from a 13-point lead in the first half and a 19-point lead in the second half to make things interesting down the stretch. However, Los Alamos played just well enough on both ends late to preserve a 75-66 lead.

Hilltopper Michael Helland, who was one of three players on the squad picked for the All-Tournament team, said he was glad to escape with a win in the final.

“I think it helps,” said Helland, a senior. “We always want to win every game we play. It’s good to pick up these wins.”

Friday in the tournament semifinals, Los Alamos fell behind  big to Pojoaque after the first half of play, but led by Corey Clark’s 17 second half points, Los Alamos earned a 71-61 victory.

The Elks (9-3) are the defending Class AAA champion and more years than not save some of their best work for this tournament.

But Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said when his team decided it wanted back into the game, it got back into the game.

“We learned some things about ourselves against Pojoaque, “ Kirk said. “The kids got aggressive. We weren’t going to let that one go.”

Hilltopper center Alex Kirk, also an All-Tournament selection, dropped in 18 points to lead Los Alamos Friday, one of four Hilltoppers in double-figures. Following Kirk and Clark, Hardy finished with 17 and Jack Russell added 15.

In the first half of Saturday’s final, Los Alamos looked like it would put the game to bed early against the Class AAA Warriors. Los Alamos was dominant in the paint and was getting some timely outside shots which kept the Warriors scrambling on defense.

However, the Hilltoppers started getting sloppy with the ball, turning it over 13 times in the first half.

Socorro took advantage late, coming back from a 30-20 deficit with under three minutes remaining to slice the lead down to just three at the half. Socorro’s Baski Baker and Jeff Jaramillo both nailed 3-pointers late in the half to help their team get back into the ballgame.

“We let up on defense,” Helland said. “We didn’t play our hardest. Our legs were getting to us after our third game.”

Los Alamos got up 16-8 after one period, largely due to seven Socorro turnovers. Hardy had a pair of steals in the first quarter, which Los Alamos converted into points on the other end.

Socorro actually took a 42-40 lead at the 5:29 mark in the third quarter, although that lead was short-lived. Following a quick 8-0 Los Alamos run — Russell, Hardy and Clark all hit from short range ­— Socorro cut the lead back to just one with 2:38 left in the period.

Again, Los Alamos would put together a lightning-fast run, scoring 12 unanswered to close out the third quarter. At the quarter’s buzzer, Zach Parks lost his balance but still managed to put up a 3-pointer that swished through the net to give the Hilltoppers a 60-47 edge.

Kirk, meanwhile, had another big day for Los Alamos (9-3). He finished with a game-high 33 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds.

Kirk played every second of Saturday’s game and still managed to hit 3 of his last 4 free throws in the fourth quarter.

He also blocked three Socorro shots.

Parks had 12 points and three steals Saturday, while Hardy finished with 10 points. Hardy hit all six of his foul shot chances in the fourth quarter, just a day after hitting 10 out of 10 against Pojoaque.

Baker had 18 points for the Warriors and Erik Garcia finished with 15.