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Boys basketball: Toppers take on Sartans at The Pit

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By Mike Cote

It was one of the best total team efforts of the season, and it ended in a loss.That was the big story in the Jan. 15 game between the Los Alamos Hilltoppers and the St. Pius X Sartans, a nondistrict boys basketball contest played at Griffith Gymnasium.Those two teams square off again Wednesday morning, and this time the stakes are considerably higher.Los Alamos and St. Pius meet in the quarterfinals of the state Class AAAA tournament bright and early. Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 8 a.m. at University Arena (The Pit).In the first meeting between them, the score was knotted at 60 at the 2:35 mark of the fourth quarter until the Sartans, led by Chris Johansen, pulled away late. Johansen had an offensive rebound and putback with 1:40 remaining which would turn out to be huge in the endgame.“It was anybody’s ballgame until the end,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “We missed a couple of shots, we had a couple of turnovers. This game will be a battle. We’ll have to play very well.”St. Pius is the second seed in the AAAA tournament, while Los Alamos comes in as the seventh seed.To advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinal, the Hilltoppers knocked off the Deming Wildcats Saturday night in Deming, 63-54. Alex Kirk had 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Ben Allen added 20 points and Nik Allen chipped in 13.The Hilltoppers had a big night rebounding the ball, with Michael Helland pulling down 10 rebounds and Ben Allen adding nine.Kirk said the Hilltoppers will need that kind of rebounding performance Wednesday, especially against Johansen, a 6-4 forward who is considered one of the top players in AAAA.In the Jan. 15 game, Johansen finished with a game-high 26 points. Ben Allen had 22 points, Nik Allen finished with 17 and Alex Kirk had 13 points and six blocked shots. Doug Hardy scored eight coming off the bench for Los Alamos.Beyond containing Johansen, who among everything else can and often does lead the Sartan transition game, Los Alamos will have to stick to what to does best.“We need to play our game,” Kirk said. “We need to do everything we did in the last game and that will give us an opportunity to win. All we can do is hope that we have a chance at the end.”To acclimate itself for Wednesday’s early start time, Los Alamos has been practicing in the wee hours of the morning this week. Los Alamos will spend tonight in Albuquerque to save itself traveling headaches.