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Seeing the final score, one might not realize Thursday’s District 2AAAA tournament semifinal was a very tight ballgame well into the third quarter.
At the 6:02 mark of the third quarter, Capital’s Dominique Vigil-Lovato buried a long-distance 3-pointer to give her team a 26-25 edge.
But that would be the last hurrah for Capital’s Jaguars as the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team outscored the Jaguars 19-9 for the balance of the period, then held the Jaguars to just one point in the fourth quarter.
Los Alamos took Thursday’s 2AAAA semifinal, played at Griffith Gymnasium, by a comfortable 64-38 margin and earned the right to advance to Saturday’s tournament final. Los Alamos will travel to top-seeded Española Valley to take on the Sundevils. That game is scheduled for 7 p.m.
After Capital went up briefly early in the third quarter, Los Alamos went on an impressive 16-5 run spanning a little less than five minutes. Taylor Ealey and Tyree Richins both nailed 3-pointers of their own during the run, while Richins was credited with an assist on Shelby Courtright’s press-break bucket with 1:12 remaining, putting the Hilltoppers up 41-31.
“We got done what we needed to get done,” Courtright said after the game. “We kept our intensity up on defense. As a team, we stepped it up. Our man-to-man defense got our intensity up.”
The Hilltoppers (16-11 overall, 7-2 in 2AAAA) turned in one of their best-balanced scoring games of the season Thursday with three players getting into double-figures.
Courtright, coming off the bench, and senior Bryanna Richins both finished with 16 points and Sarah Worland added 13 more.
Bryanna Richins had 12 of her 16 in the second half to help spark the rout and move the Hilltoppers just one game away from clinching a postseason berth. Richins said that while she knows Los Alamos hasn’t yet sealed a spot in the AAAA playoffs, as a senior, she’s ready for them.
“I really try to focus on what’s next, but I do want to get there,” she said after her 6 of 9 shooting performance from the floor. “This team can do great things. I’m really excited about it.”
Ealey finished with seven points, as did Tyree Richins.
Heading into Thursday’s game Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said she thought her team was playing as well as it had all season.
It is currently on its longest winning streak of the season — five games — included in that streak a pair of victories over Capital and a win over Española Valley.
Los Alamos may have greatly increased its postseason stock with the victory, especially with potential at-large competitors Albuquerque Academy (14-13) falling in the 5AAAA tournament and Grants (12-12) having already been eliminated from its 6AAAA tournament.
There are still several potential at-large teams with similar records as Los Alamos and competition for those spots could be fierce if upstart teams end up winning their respective district tournaments.
Capital, which had a rough nondistrict season, winning just two nondistrict games, is a long shot at best to make the Class AAAA playoff field.
Thursday, the Jaguars managed to stay close because of their penchant in the first three quarters for hitting from beyond the arc. In the first quarter, two of their three field goals were 3-pointers, while all five of their third quarter field goals came from beyond the 3-point circle.
Los Alamos took an 8-3 lead right out of the gate Thursday, but Capital would come back to tie the game at 12 before the end of the first period.
Capital, which handed Los Alamos a big loss in their first regular season contest Feb. 3, wouldn’t go away in the first half. Los Alamos never held more than a 3-point lead and led just 23-20 at the break.
But the Jaguars (6-19 overall, 4-5 in 2AAAA) wouldn’t be able to keep up their hot hand late in the contest and were never able to penetrate the Hilltoppers’ interior defense. They misfired on all 12 of their shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
No Jaguar finished with more than two field goals in the game. Vandora Montoya finished with nine points to lead Capital.
Meanwhile, Worland had five points in the final period, hitting 3 of 4 from the free throw line, and Richins had six points.
“It’s awesome,” Courtright said. “We needed (a win) to move forward and show the district and the state what we’ve got. Now it’s time to focus on Saturday.”