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While winning Saturday afternoon’s ballgame was the priority, it didn’t hurt the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team to make a statement with it at the same time.
The Los Alamos Hilltopper pummeled the Piedra Vista Panthers Saturday afternoon at Griffith Gymnasium in the first round of the state Class AAAA playoffs. Los Alamos never trailed in the contest, jumping out to an 18-5 lead after one quarter of play and never looked.
Turning in one of its best overall offensive efforts of the season, Los Alamos earned an 89-56 victory over Piedra Vista and will move on to the state quarterfinals. Waiting there will be Albuquerque Academy’s Chargers, whom the Hilltoppers will play at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
While the Panthers made no bones throughout the contest they wanted to push the tempo hard, the Hilltoppers rarely got snookered into a run-and-gun mentality, save an approximately 90 second stretch in the third quarter in which the teams quickly traded five turnovers trying to run up the floor.
Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk barked out for a timeout and let his team have it in the huddle for getting out of control.
“He wanted us to slow it down,” Hilltopper point guard Zach Parks said. “We had the game in-hand. We didn’t need to run up-and-down the floor.’
Aside from that short stint, however, Los Alamos maintained an even keel pace for virtually the entire ballgame.
Los Alamos’ main weapon, 6-foot-11 Alex Kirk, was in fine form Saturday afternoon, finishing with 28 points, 14 rebounds, 8 blocked shots and 6 assists.
Kirk was a menace for the smaller Panthers, whose biggest player on the roster was reserve forward Dennis Simonson at 6-4. Kirk dominated the early part of the third quarter, knocking in his first 5 shots attempts of the quarter and finishing with 12 points in the period.
But Los Alamos’ game was well-balanced with both Parks, who feasted off of his teams’ press-break chances, and Brandon Owens getting into double-figures as well.
Owens said the team, more than anything, was glad to get the first round game over with and move on to play at University Arena Wednesday.
“It felt good,” Owens said. “We knew they weren’t going to lay down. We knew coach (Brian) Shock was going to run-and-gun for 32 minutes. We really expected a fast-paced game, but we were able to slow it down and pound it inside.”
Shock pulled off a notable upset inside Griffith Gym in the 2006 state AAAA tournament. Coaching the Aztec Tigers at the time, Shock’s 12th-seeded Tigers simply outplayed and outhustled the fifth-seeded Hilltoppers virtually from the tip-off to earn that tournament knock-out.
But Saturday’s game was all Los Alamos, which got back to doing what it does best, controlling the inside on both sides of the court. While Piedra Vista was able to knock down some perimeter shots in the second quarter to keep pace, it wouldn’t be nearly enough.
“Alex was there to back us up if anybody got by,” Hilltopper forward Austin Wolstein said. “We played tough defense and didn’t let them drive into the lane. We held them to outside shots, lower-percentage shots.”
Los Alamos’ 89 points was easily its best output of the 2009-10 season. Prior to Saturday it had not broken the 80-point mark in any contest.
Saturday’s ballgame was the first time since 2007 that Los Alamos (19-9) had hosted a first-round game, including the past two seasons in which it had to go on the road to Deming and Farmington despite being the higher seed on both occasions. By New Mexico Activities Association rules, district champions, regardless of record or seeding, are guaranteed a home first-round game, a rule that nipped Los Alamos both years.
Among the most notable pluses for the Hilltoppers Saturday was their free throw shooting, which had been suspect in the previous few week. They knocked down 22 of 25 attempts from the foul line, including a 13-for-14 effort in the final quarter.
On the other end, the Panthers (16-12) struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm, connecting on just 21 of 61 field goal attempts (34.4 percent).
While coach Kirk was generally pleased with the effort – he was somewhat unhappy about some of the easy, uncontested shots that Los Alamos missed – he was quick to point out that Saturday’s game was the just the first step in what could be a long march to the state title game.
“Our road is probably the hardest road you can have to the top,” he said. “We got the seeded game out of the way and we’re moving on to The Pit. We have to step up the ladder 3-2-1 if there aren’t any upsets.”
Should Los Alamos get by Academy Wednesday, a likely date with Española Valley, the tournament’s No. 2 seed and Los Alamos’ mortal enemy, would await in the semifinals. That winner there would likely meet up with No. 1 seed and defending Class AAAA champion Roswell for the state title.
To prepare for the 8 a.m. tip-off time Los Alamos has scheduled for Wednesday, it will hold a couple of 6 a.m. workout sessions this week.
“It’s definitely going to be a change, but we have to adapt to it,” Wolstein said.
Los Alamos 89, Piedra Vista 56
Piedra Vista – Joey Murphy 2-9 2-2 6, Corey Blackwater 4-9 0-0 11, Wubz Bennalley 3-7 2-3 8, July Shay 2-6 0-0 5, Dominic Valdez 4-11 0-0 8, Joey Klemish 1-3 0-0 3, Isaiah Sanchez 3-5 4-6 10, Jacob Armijo 2-9 0-0 5, Dennis Simonson 0-3 0-2 0, Dakota Chee 0-0 0-0 0, Ray DeKay 0-0 0-2 0, Satchel Baker, 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-61 8-15 56.
Los Alamos – Zach Parks 6-11 5-5 17, Brandon Owens 6-8 0-0 12, Wade Archuleta 0-3 6-6 6, Austin Wolstein 4-5 1-1 9, Alex Kirk 12-18 2-5 28, Nick Baker 0-0 2-2 2, Thomas Russell 3-4 0-0 7, David Knapp 0-1 0-0 0, Chris Ryan 1-2 0-0 2, JD Weiss 0-1 2-2 2, Nathan Carver 0-0 4-4 4, Patrick Doyle 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-53 22-25 89.
3-point goals – PV 8-27 (Blackwater 3-6, Valdez 2-5, Shay 1-3, Klemish 1-3, Armijo 1-5, Murphy 0-3, Bennalley 0-1, Simonson 0-1), LA 3-5 (Kirk 2-3, Russell 1-1, Ryan 0-1). Fouled out – Blackwater (4th, 47.0). Total fouls – PV 21, LA 17. Technicals – Archuleta.