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Exactly when it needed to, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team put together one of its finest quarters of the 2009-2010 season.
Los Alamos came up big on both ends of the floor, executing perhaps its best 8 minutes of motion offense and all but shutting down the main scoring threat of its opponent, Española Valley, to earn its biggest win of the regular season.
The Hilltoppers grabbed a share of the District 2AAAA lead with their win Tuesday night, dropping the district-leading Sundevils 52-48, chiefly on the strength of that fourth quarter.
Española Valley led by as many as 8 early in the fourth quarter before Los Alamos mounted its comeback.
Each of the other three quarters Tuesday seemed to present a new problem for the Hilltoppers. In the first quarter, the Hilltoppers committed 11 turnovers; in the second quarter, the Hilltoppers couldn’t convert from the foul line; in the third quarter, Española Valley started hitting some outside shots to force the Hilltoppers to stretch their defense.
But Los Alamos’ adjustments in the fourth more than made up for it.
Point guard Tyree Richins and forward Shelby Courtright combined for 12 of Los Alamos’ 20 points in the quarter, with Courtright earning an assist on a big bucket by guard Sarah Worland to cut the lead to 3 with 2:47 remaining.
Richins, Courtright, Worland and Taylor Ealey all ended up in double-figures Tuesday night, while Tina Radosevich picked up 6 points coming off the bench. Los Alamos did the bulk of its scoring Tuesday in or near the paint, taking advantage of a big height advantage it had against Española Valley.
“We really wanted it to be about the posts versus Española,” Ealey said. “Our height, that’s what it was about. They expected us to chuck 3s.”
Ealey finished with 13 points to lead the Hilltoppers, with 7 of those coming in the third quarter as her team tried to stave off a mid-quarter push from the Sundevils.
The Sundevils hit a pair of 3-pointers in the quarter, the second of which, by Justine Vigil, gave her team a 31-22 lead.
While Vigil finished with 10 points in the game, the Sundevils’ main troublemaker was Nisa Duran, the reigning District Player of the Year. Duran, a point guard with good speed and excellent shooting touch, gave the Hilltoppers fits for three quarters.
Duran scored 11 points in the first half and 6 more in the third quarter. Los Alamos’ defensive adjustment, however, slowed her up considerably in the final period.
Los Alamos came out in a 2-1-2 defense in the fourth quarter, something it had not showed much this season, and cut Duran off from driving into the lane, where she is most effective.
“She tried to do too much,” Richins said after the game. “She’s a good player, but we focused on her. We stopped her as much as we could.”
Duran finished with 19 points on 8 of 15 shooting but got off just three shots in the final 8 minutes, one of which was blocked by Ealey near the basket.
The Hilltoppers had to make up for some spotty free throw shooting in the fourth quarter as well.
They misfired on all 6 of their second quarter attempts, then went just 4-for-9 in the third quarter.
Richins, however, was fouled three times going to the lane in the fourth quarter and converted all 6 of her attempts from the stripe, which aided the Los Alamos comeback attempt considerably.
Los Alamos’ victory Tuesday means that, should it get by Capital in its season finale Friday night and Española Valley (21-4 overall, 6-1 in 2AAAA) top hapless Bernalillo that same night, the two teams would play a one-game playoff for the regular season district championship, the right to host the 2AAAA tournament championship game and, most importantly, an automatic bid into the Class AAAA playoffs, which start in two weeks.
While it’s highly unlikely that either team, regardless of how the next several days play out, will be left out in the playoff cold, Los Alamos (16-8 overall, 6-1 in 2AAAA) is bent on getting back the district crown Española Valley wrenched from it a years ago.
“We didn’t want to lose,” Ealey said. “That was pretty much it. The people on the bench helped us with our offense. That helped a lot.”
Any potential playoff game between Los Alamos and Española Valley would take place early next week at a neutral site, most likely Monday or Tuesday at Pojoaque High School or Capital High School.
In the teams’ first meeting Jan. 30, Los Alamos similarly had to try to scratch its way back from a late second-half deficit, but Duran took over in the final 4 minutes of the contest to give the Sundevils a 42-32 victory.
“I think the big thing (Tuesday) is that we weren’t worried,” Richins said. “That was the big thing. When they got the lead, we didn’t let it stop us.”
Neither team shot particularly well Tuesday, with the Hilltoppers converting just 11 buckets in 35 chances through the first three quarters (31.4 percent) and the Sundevils managing just 2 field goals in the final 7 minutes.