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Just when the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls varsity basketball team appeared to have Wednesday’s game sewn up, the Albuquerque Academy Chargers made it interesting.With 6:24 to play, the Hilltoppers moved ahead by nine points on a bucket from Taylor Ealey, their biggest lead of the game.But through plain old skullduggery down low, Academy climbed back into the game, cutting the Hilltopper lead to three on two occasions late in the contest. Academy had a pair of late 3-point chances, one of which just rimmed out, and Los Alamos held on for a 35-32 victory at Griffith Gymnasium.Wednesday’s game was the season opener for Los Alamos, the first of three quick contests to open the season.Los Alamos was winded and dragging toward the end of the game, but it won’t get much of a chance to rest, as it goes back to action tonight against the Del Norte Knights.“We got a little tired,” Hilltopper point guard Tyree Richins said after the contest. “We were just tired, but not much else. We just needed to keep moving on offense. That’s about it.”Following the game, Los Alamos head coach Gerry Washburn joked about his team’s nickname this season being the “magnificent seven,” because his bench players have very limited varsity experience and his starters will probably be logging heavy minutes this season, particularly in the nip-and-tuck contests.Despite the endgame getting a little more interesting than the Hilltoppers might have wanted, most things worked out well for a season opener.“Compared to some first games we’ve had, I was very pleased,” Washburn said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game by any stretch of the imagination, but for as young as we are, we played solid against a good ballclub.”Ealey, following a quiet first half, was able to both finesse and muscle her way to the basket as necessary in the second half. She had 12 of her 14 points in the second half, including a perfectly-timed back-door cut on an interior pass from guard Sarah Ethridge.It was a particularly good night for Ealey, a sophomore post, because play down low was rough throughout Wednesday’s contest. Battling a bruising forward in Academy’s Anna Smoak, Ealey turned in a good shooting performance (6-for-10) and was able to play disciplined defense after picking up two quick fouls in the first half.Had it not been for some early foul trouble and a few early turnovers, Los Alamos might have had the game well under control by halftime. But because Ealey and fellow post Bryanna Richins were whistled early — Richins would foul out in the fourth quarter — Los Alamos had to back off its low post offense for a good portion of the second quarter.The Hilltoppers didn’t establish a big outside shooting game Wednesday night, either, and were held to just eight points in the second quarter, that after starting to get some offensive momentum going late in the first quarter.Tyree Richins said the team just needs to make a few adjustments to get some better outside looks.“The posts need to screen a little more, and we can get those shots off,” she said. “But we keep cutting and we catch them off guard.But with the inside game clicking most of the night and Ethridge finding the openings in the interior — she finished with six assists — Los Alamos was setting itself up with plenty of good looks down low and didn’t need much of an outside shooting game to score.Washburn said Ethridge will make a big difference at the two-guard position this season, especially after firing a pass from near half court to Kayla Tumas, who had broken free on the baseline to put the ’Toppers up 33-26 with 5:10 remaining.“I love the fact that we can make that play,” Washburn said. “It’s been a long time since we had a guard that big that can see that over the top of the defense.”But at the 3:27 mark of the fourth quarter, Academy’s Charlotte Casey hit a short jumper to cut the Los Alamos lead to five, then about a minute later Smoak bullied her way into the paint and hit a layup to trim the lead to three.Academy would have three chances to tie the game in the final minute, but a 3-pointer from Elena Ortiz rimmed out with 50 seconds remaining. The other two Academy long-balls struck iron but bounced away harmlessly.The Hilltopper defense was solid throughout Wednesday's contest, holding Academy to just 13-for-43 shooting performance. Academy had just two field goals in the third quarter, with the Los Alamos defense holding it scoreless until the 3:20 mark.Los Alamos will be Del Norte’s season-opener tonight.Del Norte failed to make the playoffs last season, being unable to break out of a tough District 5AAAA.The Knights have just two seniors listed on their roster going into tonight’s game, although both of them have size and play in the post.Overall, the Knights will have some size. They have six players listed at 5-10 or above, including 6-0 post Leigha Harvey, a sophomore.On the Knights’ roster are seven juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.
Los Alamos 35, Albuquerque Academy 32LA (1-0), AA (1-1)
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q Tot.Academy 8 7 5 12 32Los Alamos 11 8 8 8 35
Academy: Anna Smoak 6-11 2-4 14, Madeline Watson 2-4 0-0 4, Darcy Odom 0-0 0-0 0, Elena Ortiz 1-9 2-2 4, Bridget Hill 3-7 0-1 6, Jodie Gomez 0-1 0-0 0, Ariel Hautzinger 0-3 0-0 0, Monet Supple 0-5 1-2 1, Charlotte Casey 1-3 1-3 3. Totals 13-43 6-12 32.
Los Alamos: Sarah Ethridge 3-7 1-1 7, Tyree Richins 1-4 2-2 4, Kayci Harmon 1-4 0-0 2, Taylor Ealey 6-10 2-3 14, Bryanna Richins 2-11 0-0 4, Kayla Tumas 2-5 0-0 4, Kate Rooney 0-0 0-0 0, Shelby Courtright 0-2 0-0 0, Jaime Begay 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-43 5-6 35.
3-Point FG: Academy 0-7 (Ortiz 0-5, Hill 0-1, Casey 0-1), Los Alamos 0-3 (T. Richins 0-2, Ethridge 0-1).
Turnovers: Academy 17, Los Alamos 20.
Total fouls: Kirtland Central 18, Los Alamos 20.
Fouled out: B. Richins (4th, 44.1).