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Girls basketball: LA falls in APS Tourney first round

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By The Staff

ALBUQUERQUE — Few around the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls varsity basketball team said that anything would come easily this season.The Hilltoppers are in the midst of finding that out now.Los Alamos struggled in the first half against a solid Eldorado Eagles’ squad in the first round of the Albuquerque Public Schools Invitational Tournament.And although it battled back in the second half, Los Alamos could never fully get on track, falling big to Eldorado 63-35.Thursday’s game was played at Eldorado High School. The loss put Los Alamos into the consolation bracket, where it will face Albuquerque High, which fell hard to St. Pius X 73-38 immediately before the Los Alamos-Eldorado contest.“Good learning experience,” Hilltopper head coach Gerry Washburn said. “We had some stretches where we played very well. They’re starting to understand that they can establish and control the tempo of a game. Sometimes we just wanted to run, and we’re not ready to run yet.”Washburn has so far this season been preaching the mantra of patience to his team. While his team still got harried on numerous possessions against Eldorado, the team may be starting to come around to his philosophy.On the whole, it wasn’t a pretty contest for the Hilltoppers (2-2), who lost their second straight contest by double-digits after picking up wins in their first two outings.The Hilltoppers turned the ball over 26 times against the Eagles (3-1), a big, athletic and deep Class AAAAA squad.Eldorado kept the first half fast-paced and up-tempo to grab a 33-17 lead by halftime. In the first half, Eldorado was able to establish a strong inside-outside game on offense, and had eight players in the scoring column to Los Alamos’ four.The third quarter was, by far, the best quarter of the game for Los Alamos. Los Alamos, which forced itself to take its time bringing the ball up the floor, started to crawl its way back into the ballgame.Sarah Ethridge and Taylor Ealey converted on back-to-back ’Topper possessions midway through the frame, while the ’Topper defense helped force six Eagle turnovers.Ealey and Bryanna Richins, Los Alamos’ big girls down low, both stepped their games up Thursday night, a very good sign for the team.Richins and Ealey were both able to establish solid offensive position, turn and shoot effectively throughout the night, which was something both made a conscious effort to do going in.“We’ve been talking a lot about that,” Richins said. “We have to be stronger in the post. Me and Taylor knew we needed to do that. I thought we did a good job of that (Thursday).”Richins, for her part, was 4-for-5 from the floor following the break, and drew two fouls on the game. She finished with a game-high 17 points, her best outing of the young season.“It was a lot better,” Richins said of her night. “I felt like I was slowing down, not thinking about it, just doing what came naturally.”Ealey started off well, scoring six points in the first half, but was one of the Hilltoppers who got caught up when the team started running and not settling into its half-court offense.After her bucket in the second half, Ealey couldn’t find the net again. She finished with nine points on 4 of 15 shooting.The Hilltoppers knocked the Eagle advantage down to 11 on two occasions in the fourth quarter — it had been up to 19 at one point in the third — and had chances to get the lead down to single digits but couldn’t convert.After Los Alamos whittled the lead down to 45-34, Eldorado bounced back and went on an impressive 18-1 run to close out the game.Neither team shot particularly well. Eldorado launched 73 shots on the night, but converted just 25 of those (34.2 percent), while Los Alamos connected at a nearly identical clip, finishing 14 of 41 from the floor (34.1 percent).Eldorado had a balanced scoring attack, with 34 of its points coming from its bench players. Forward Channel Sedberry paced Eldorado with 13 points Thursday night.Washburn said that even with the limited varsity experience his team is bringing into the season — only Ethridge, Richins and Jamie Begay had any significant varsity experience going into the season — he hasn’t seen anything so far that more playing time shouldn’t correct.“We’re going to be fine,” Washburn said. “We have to be patient. The kids have to be patient; the coaches have to be patient. We have to make sure that every time we play, we get better and we get smarter. So far, we’ve gotten better and we’ve gotten smarter.”