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GRANTS — A quick-strike rally by the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team at the end of the first half Friday put it within striking distance of the Grants Pirates heading into the break.
Los Alamos trailed by as many as eight points in the first half of the opening round Class 4A state tournament game against Grants, but cut the Pirates’ lead down to just one possession.
That would, however, be the last offensive push the Hilltoppers would make for the balance of the ballgame.
The Pirates used a fast-slashing dribble penetration game against the Hilltoppers to pull away in the second half. Meanwhile the Hilltoppers managed just one point in the third quarter as they fell 46-28 at Grants.
The loss ended Los Alamos’ season while Grants advances to play Española Valley Tuesday in the quarterfinal round of the 4A tournament. Española Valley, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, knocked off 13th-seeded Miyamura 72-56 to advance to the quarterfinals.
The loss stung, but the Hilltoppers were generally pleased with the 2010-11 season.
“I think a lot of people underestimated us,” Hilltopper senior guard Kamille Chavez said. “We had a really young team. This whole year, practices were rough. They were far from easy. It was disappointing the way it ended but I can honestly say I had a lot of fun.”
Friday’s contest matched up two teams with rosters chock-full of young players.
Grants (22-4) was among the most surprising teams in 4A this season. With only three seniors and seven underclassmen on the team, not to mention an 8-16 record in 2009-10, few were expecting the Pirates to be much of a factor this season.
Instead, the Pirates put together an outstanding regular season and earned a fifth-seed into the tournament, giving them the right to host Friday’s game against the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers.
Anchoring Grants this season was freshman Teige Zeller, a 6-foot-1 center with outstanding skills on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Friday, Zeller forced Los Alamos out of an inside game, making Los Alamos instead settle for some mid-range and long-range shots.
The Hilltoppers (13-15) couldn’t find the basket very often Friday, hitting only 9 of 45 attempts from the floor (20 percent).
The only time Los Alamos really got much going on the offensive end was when Zeller had to go to the bench midway through the second quarter after picking up her second personal foul.
From that point on, the Hilltoppers went on a 9-4 run.
Forward Erin Kirk, who had only a handful of touches up to that point, put in all seven of her points during the second quarter, while Hayley Each and McKenzie Logan, Los Alamos’ freshmen, connected on buckets on consecutive possessions.
Los Alamos trailed 24-21 at the end of the half. In the second half, however, Zeller’s defense and the Pirates’ guards took over the contest.
Grants guards Julie Gallegos and Sydney Mares did the majority of the damage in the second half with their penetration. Hilltopper head coach Tarah Logan said she was surprised her team didn’t adjust to the attacking guards better than it did.
“We played non-typical defense,” said Logan, who had led Los Alamos to the playoffs in each of her three seasons as head coach. “Our man defense usually stops that, but we had a hard time with our help defense. We struggled with that tonight.”
Grants, for its part, shot no better than did Los Alamos, but was able to put up a whopping 64 attempts from the floor. Most of those extra attempts came directly off of second-chances and Los Alamos turnovers — the Hilltoppers lost the ball 30 times Friday.
For the Pirates, Mares and Gallegos combined for 21 points, while Kalleen Shutiva finished with seven coming off the bench.
For Los Alamos, senior Tina Radosevich put in a spirited effort. She led her team with eight points — she had two of the three field goals the Hilltoppers converted in the second half — and finished with five steals.
Radosevich hit a pair of buckets to open the fourth quarter with Los Alamos trying to battle back from 11 points down, but the offense would generate little more than that for the next four minutes.
Logan said her seniors were a big part of the Hilltoppers’ success this season, especially after losing all five of their 2009-10 starters.
“For the cohesiveness of this team, this was the most cohesive team I’ve ever coached or played on,” she said. “I hate to see it end like this.”
NOTE: Former Los Alamos and Grants head coach Tim Van Hecke was in attendance at Friday’s game. Van Hecke led Los Alamos to its one and only state final appearance. He left Grants’ program after last season due to health issues. Van Hecke currently teaches Health at Grants High School. Van Hecke was also Logan’s high school coach.
Class 4A girls
(1) Kirtland Central 74, (16) Santa Fe 25
(9) Valencia 63, (8) Albuquerque Academy, 51
(4) Española Valley 72, (13) Miyamura 56
(3) Gallup 68, (14) St. Pius X 23
(11) Piedra Vista 41, (6) Del Norte 36
(10) Artesia 44, (7) Deming 32
(2) Roswell 78, (15) Santa Teresa 48