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Girls basketball: Hilltoppers get ousted by Panthers

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By Mike Cote

At the time it might have seemed like a pull of the slot machine, but the Piedra Vista Panthers hit the jackpot.At the half, Piedra Vista Panther head coach Lee Marett decided to pack the paint on defense, even though the Los Alamos Hilltoppers seemed to have a good thing going from the outside in the first half.But the gamble worked big. Piedra Vista held Los Alamos to just four field goals in the second half of Friday’s Class AAAA state tournament game.With just 16 seconds remaining, Panther forward Gaila Brooks hit a layup to give her team a first round upset of the Hilltoppers, 45-43 at Griffith Gymnasium.The 12th-seeded Panthers advance to the state quarterfinals Tuesday, while they fifth-seeded Hilltoppers ended their season earlier than expected.Following the game, ’Topper senior captain Sarah Ethridge pounded the Griffith Gym floor with her fist, agonizing over a game which appeared to be well in-hand at the break.“I told Ethi she did everything she could out there,” Hilltopper head coach Gerry Washburn said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without her doing the things she did.”The Hilltoppers appeared to be pulling away from the Panthers in the second quarter, mounting a well-sustained 13-5 run through the final six-plus minutes of the half.In the first half, Los Alamos shot a blazing 11-for-19 from the floor and held Piedra Vista to just nine points in the second quarter to grab a 30-21 lead at the break.Los Alamos hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter — one by Tyree Richins and the other by Taylor Ealey — and were able to get some pretty good looks on the outside despite the small but pesky Piedra Vista guards.But it was Los Alamos’ low post game, which has been the team’s bread-and-butter all season that was doing the most damage. Junior Bryanna Richins dropped in eight points the first quarter alone, and she and Ealey drew two fouls against the Panthers’ 6-foot-2 center Ashley Ward, making her sit out most of the second quarter.Los Alamos expanded its lead to 11 points just 17 seconds into the second half with Tyree Richins slashing through the paint for a bucket, and everything seemed to be going the Hilltoppers’ way.The tide would turn quickly, however.Los Alamos wouldn’t score again until a Ethridge launched an awkward 3-pointer with :18 remaining in the third quarter, quelling an impressive 13-0 run by the Panthers.Getting baskets from five different players, the Panthers erased the Hilltoppers’ lead, and briefly took a 34-32 edge with good baseline cut by guard Cheree Charley.Marett said no one on the team panicked when Los Alamos grabbed its double-digit lead.“We just needed to stick to our game-plan,” Marett said. “We knew they were going to hit some 3s, we knew they were going to get some offensive rebounds. We’ve just got to stick with our game-plan.”In the first half, the Panthers tried to deny the entry passes into the ’Topper big girls, but found limited success. In the second half, the Panthers had four players in or on the edge of the lane and the passing lanes started to disappear.When the ’Toppers did get inside, they were often surrounded or so far under the basket that quality shots were hard to come by. They finished the second half 4-for-15 from the floor.In the fourth quarter, Bryanna Richins hit a pair of free throws to give the ’Toppers a 40-37 edge with 4:01 remaining. On Piedra Vista’s next trip down the floor, however, Janessa Harrison connected from the top of the circle to tie the score.A bucket by Ward and a free throw by Brittni Padilla on the next two possessions gave the Panthers a 43-40 edge. Following an Ethridge bucket, Keyla Tumas hit a free throw to tie the score at 43, but the Panthers pushed the ball down the floor and looked to have an easy transition bucket in their midst, but Tumas alertly got back on defense and knocked the would-be assist out of bounds with 19.0 remaining.The ensuing inbound, however, would find Brooks open for a short jumper, which proved to be the difference. A desperation 3-pointer by Ealey was well off-target.Friday’s win was the first time in school history Piedra Vista had ever moved past the first round in the state playoffs. In its only other appearance in the tournament, 2006, it lost at Griffith to Los Alamos.“We felt that if we could use our quickness to our advantage, we could be them,” Marett said after the ballgame.Brooks had a team-high 11 for the Panthers. Charley and Harrison each finished with 10.Ealey and Bryanna Richins had 12 points to lead all other scorers. Ethridge finished with 10 and Tyree Richins added eight.Washburn was disappointed after the game, considering how much his team had improved throughout the course of the 2007-08 season.“This season was incredible,” he said. “The kids played unbelievably well. They grew up, they got better and better. I don’t think the bunch of them knew how good they were. They came a million miles. It was a very rewarding season and I hate to see it end this way.”The Hilltoppers, who won the District 2AAAA championship and had won nine straight prior to Friday’s loss, end the season with a record of 17-10.