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Girls basketball: LA earns back-to-back victories

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By Mike Cote

If the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team wanted to keep things interesting for its two home games this weekend, it managed just that.

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Los Alamos went right down to the wire with the Piedra Vista Panthers Friday night and had to stave off a comeback attempt against Aztec’s Tigers Saturday night to take the first two of a challenging three-game set that continues Monday.

Friday, the Hilltoppers got a pair of free throws with just 16 seconds remaining from reserve guard Kristina Radosevich to earn a 41-39 victory over the Panthers. Saturday, a pair of Tyree Richins 3-pointers wrapping around the third and fourth quarters helped to kick-start what had been a plodding Los Alamos offense, helping the Hilltoppers to a 40-29 victory over the Tigers.

The two wins against teams from the highly-competitive Four Corners region of the state could give Los Alamos a much-needed boost.

“We got some confidence back,” Richins said after Saturday’s win. “It makes us feel a lot better.”

With the two victories, Los Alamos gets to the .500 mark (4-4), the first time it had been there this seasons.

Despite taking it on the chin in some ballgames earlier this season, most notably a lopsided loss to Sandia in the first round of the Joe Armijo Invitational Dec. 10, Los Alamos now moves to 4-0 against Class AAAA competition. Los Alamos has also topped Moriarty and St. Pius X, a pair of successful AAAA programs, as well as Piedra Vista, which went into Friday’s game as the sixth-ranked team in the state, one spot ahead of the Hilltoppers.

Radosevich’s foul shots broke a 39-39 tie late in the ballgame against Piedra Vista, which had outscored Los Alamos 17-13 up to that point in the final quarter.

It was an uneven game for the Hilltoppers offensively, although their defense, which has been consistently solid all season, slowed the Panthers offense to a crawl in the odd-numbered quarters.

Los Alamos managed just five points in the opening quarter, but allowed Piedra Vista (5-4) just nine points during that same span to keep it in the game. In the third quarter when Los Alamos scored just six points, it held Piedra Vista to just five.

Richins, who was named a preseason All-State player by the New Mexico High School Coaches Association, has started to come into her game over the last two weeks and came up big in the second quarter Friday, hitting a pair of 3s to spearhead a 15-point effort which gave the Hilltoppers a 20-17 advantage at the break.

“Tyree has really turned it on the last couple of games,” Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said. “She’s playing point guard just the way she’s supposed to. She knows when we need her to pass and she knows when we need her to score.”

In the Aztec game, the Tigers pared down a 10-point Hilltopper lead in the third quarter to just three with 2:43 to go.

Impressive 6-foot-1 freshman center Katie Hegarty put one of two free throws in after being fouled on an offensive rebound off a missed Tiger free throw to get her team right back into a game that should’ve by all rights have been a blowout at that point. The Tigers hit just four field goals in the first three quarters and didn’t even get a shot off from the floor in the second quarter until the 2:55 mark.

But with the Hilltoppers clinging to a 4-point lead, Richins buried the first 3-pointer of the game hit by either team with just :01 remaining in the third. Richins would follow that up with a 3-ball with 6:17 remaining in the fourth to push the Hilltopper cushion back to 10.

Richins said Los Alamos simply was able to come up big in the two games when it had to.

“It really helped us to win (Friday),” she said. “They (the Panthers) are a good team. Those games are what we play for. It brings a smile to our faces when we say ‘we’ve got to do it.’”

Taylor Ealey provided the bulk of the offense for Los Alamos in Saturday’s first half, dropping in 9 of the team’s 16 points. Ealey finished with a game-high 17 points, the only player on either side to get into double-figures, and also grabbed eight rebounds and had three steals.

The night before, Ealey finished with 7 points while Richins and Kamille Chavez, in one of the best outings of her career, both paced the Hilltoppers with 11. Piedra Vista’s Kristy Bates led all scorers with 16.

“There’s a pretty consistent theme: the seniors taking those leadership roles,” Logan said. “Taylor had a good game. Everyone’s trying to support each other more.”

Richins finished with 8 points Saturday. Another senior, Jenny Tumas, didn’t score but, despite being one of the shortest players on the floor, grabbed three offensive rebounds and had three steals.

Los Alamos forced 29 Aztec turnovers, 13 of those coming in the second quarter when Aztec managed just five points.

But Los Alamos managed just 12 field goals on the night Saturday on 55 attempts (21.8 percent), a figure that isn’t likely to stand up against the No. 1 ranked Kirtland Central Broncos, who visit Griffith Gymnasium Monday — that game has a 2 p.m. start time.

The Broncos (8-1) been held under 50 points just twice this season and usually play a fast-paced, transition-oriented game.