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Basketball fans won’t have to go far to see two games Saturday. About the furthest trip they’ll need to make is to the concession stand for a hot dog in between games.Both the Hilltopper boys and girls will be at Griffith Gymnasium Saturday afternoon. Tip-off time for the boys game against Farmington is scheduled for 4 p.m., and the girls game against St. Pius X will start at 5 p.m.Both teams will also be in action tonight, with the girls at home against Rio Grande and the boys in Albuquerque to face Del Norte.Also this weekend, the Hilltopper wrestling team will be in competition in Shiprock and the swimming and diving squads will visit Albuquerque Academy (see story at right).
How much would a pair of wins mean to the Hilltoppers in their final two games before the start of 2AAAA play Tuesday?“It’s huge,” Los Alamos center Alex Kirk said following Tuesday’s 69-65 home loss to St. Pius’ Sartans. “We’ll get momentum going into district. We’ve got to load up, give it all we’ve got to beat these next two teams. We’ve got to stop the streak and get our momentum back.”“The streak” Kirk refers to is the four-game slide the Hilltoppers are currently on. Los Alamos has dropped four straight heading into tonight’s contest at Del Norte.Those four losses weren’t exactly against chumps, however. Los Alamos fell to Capital (52-44 Jan. 5), Highland (63-42 Jan. 8), Pojoaque (72-65 Jan. 12) before Tuesday night’s loss.St. Pius and Capital are the third- and fourth-ranked Class AAAA team in the state according to the most recent New Mexico Overtime Sports Center coaches’ poll — Los Alamos is seventh in that same poll — while Highland is third in Class AAAAA and Pojoaque is third in Class AAA.While Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said he would’ve loved a win Tuesday, he wasn’t going to lose a lot of sleep over it.“(That) game meant nothing for us, win or lose,” he said. “If we won, it would’ve held our seeding for state, but if we lost it wouldn’t hurt us. Our focus was on playing hard; as tough as we could play them.”This weekend, if winning is the focus, Los Alamos could scarcely ask for two better opponents.Del Norte (1-14) won its first game of the season Jan. 12, a 45-44 victory over Los Alamos’ Saturday opponent, Farmington (3-11), a team that has also struggled this season. Los Alamos beat Farmington 42-30 in a slow, lumbering game in which the Scorpions simply tried to play keep-away for a good portion of the contest.To be fair, Del Norte’s Knights have had a rough nondistrict schedule, playing against Sandia, Rio Rancho, Eldorado and Highland, among others.Since Los Alamos’ and Farmington’s initial meeting Dec. 8, the Scorpions have picked up wins against Cortez, Colo., Pagosa Springs, Colo. and Grants.Three Hilltoppers finished in double-figures in that game, held in the Four Corners area, including a 16-point effort from Alex Kirk to lead all scorers. Despite some early foul trouble, Nik Allen finished with 12 points and Doug Hardy had 10 points coming off the bench.
Los Alamos isn’t exactly relaxing before heading into District 2AAAA play.The Hilltoppers have two tough games remaining on their nondistrict schedule before they open district play against Taos Tuesday, against a solid AAAAA ballclub in Rio Grande and a top AAAA squad in St. Pius.Those two games come on the heels of a 44-35 loss Wednesday at Manzano, a game in which the ‘Toppers struggled for three quarters before putting together a fourth quarter run to make it a game.“These next two games are going to be tough,” Hilltopper head coach Gerry Washburn said. “I told them, ‘the easy one is (Wednesday).’”Los Alamos had won five of its previous six before the loss to Manzano, a game in which it was held to just 13 points in the first half and 19 points through three quarters. Solid team defense, which has been consistent throughout the season, kept Los Alamos from being blown out.Rio Grande (8-6) has had a similar nondistrict season to Los Alamos, having been on both ends of close contests. Only one of its losses, Dec. 14 to Santa Fe, was decided by more than six points.The Ravens have won three of four heading into tonight’s game, and have scored 71 or more points in each of those games, including a 75-74 win over Hope Christian Tuesday.Los Alamos is currently ranked fifth in the state among Class AAAA teams according to the most recent New Mexico Overtime Sports Center poll. Moriarty is the top-ranked team in the state and Kirtland Central is ranked second, just above Los Alamos’ Saturday opponent, St. Pius.The Hilltoppers and St. Pius’ Sartans are familiar foes, and coaches Gerry Washburn and Phil Griego are also well acquainted. The Sartans and ‘Toppers were District 2AAAA rivals from 2000-01 until 2005-2006 when the Sartans moved to District 5AAAA.The Sartans lost to Kirtland Central (Dec. 15) and Class AAAA La Cueva (Jan. 9) at home. They’ve beaten top AAAAA squads Eldorado, Cibola and Rio Rancho, those coming early in the season.
Los Alamos will be racing to the finish of its season, and the starting gun sounds this weekend.The Hilltoppers started today at the Garrison Spencer Memorial Tournament in Shiprock, the first of five events in 15 days. The Spencer Tournament is a two-day event which includes dual competition today and an individual tournament Saturday.In a week, Los Alamos will travel to the Deming Duals in the Desert, a two-day tournament with a similar format, then, following a home event Jan. 30, will head to the two-day Las Vegas Robertson Invitational, one of the toughest pre-championship events in the state.Los Alamos has held to the philosophy in recent years that everything else is a warm-up for District 2AAAA competition. The Spencer Tournament and the other upcoming events could do wonders to help the Hilltoppers continuing improvement.“There’s potential to have 10 matches in two days,” Los Alamos head coach Eric Sorensen said. “This is where we start the grind. It’s not easy at all.”The Hilltoppers headed into this weekend’s event off a big showing at last week’s Albuquerque Academy Invitational. The ‘Toppers placed third in the six-team tournament, edging out the Class AAAAA La Cueva Bears 99-98 to take home a trophy.At that tournament, five Hilltoppers advanced to the championship round, with Zak Wilde grabbing a win, picking up a solid 7-2 win over La Cueva’s Scott Folkman to earn the weight-class title.The finish came without the services of team captain Kory Nelson, who was scheduled to be back this week from an ankle injury suffered at Bernalillo Jan. 2.Nelson wasn’t the only Hilltopper who had a rough outing at Bernalillo, where Los Alamos faced the Spartans and Espaola Valley’s Sundevils, two 2AAAA foes. But aside from that struggle — Los Alamos lost both ends of the duals meet and didn’t wrestle well in the head-to-head bouts — the ‘Toppers have been heading mostly in the right direction this season.“Generally, yes,” Sorenson said. “We still have a bit of conditioning to work oneethat’s probably what we really need to focus on.”