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The late-game, full-court pressure of the St. Pius X Sartans once again put a scare into the Los Alamos Hilltoppers Friday night.
Los Alamos hosted St. Pius in the first round of the 2009-10 Class AAAA state championship tournament Friday night. The fourth quarter of Friday’s game started to look eerily similar to that of the last game the two teams played at Griffith Gymnasium.
With Los Alamos holding a big lead with about 5-1/2 minutes to play, St. Pius’ tough full-court pressure forced four straight turnovers and quickly gnawed away at the lead.
This time, however, Los Alamos broke the press and got some layups on the other end to hold off another potential upset at home.
Hilltopper point guard Tyree Richins finished with 7 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a big 3-pointer which gave her team its biggest lead of the game.
The Hilltoppers went on to win Friday’s opening round playoff game 63-56. They now advance to play another familiar foe, Española Valley, in the Class AAAA quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon.
While Los Alamos’ 17-point lead, given to it by Richins’ 3-ball with 5:34 remaining quickly dissolved to under 10, Richins said there was little worry among the Hilltoppers of a repeat of the Jan. 26 game in which the Sartans, using stifling full-court pressure, came back from an 11-point deficit to win 40-37.
“I don’t think we let that get to us,” Richins said. “We were positive the whole time. We had some turnovers and we committed some fouls, but we played as a team. We didn’t get down on anyone.”
Los Alamos grabbed a late first quarter lead Friday night and never relinquished it. Its defense effectively neutralized four-fifths of the Sartan offense with Elisha Levingston being the exception.
Levingston, St. Pius’ point guard, managed to slash her way through the Hilltoppers’ interior defense for much of the night, finishing with 36 points. Levingston, at one point in the fourth quarter, had scored 16 of St. Pius’ 18 points in the second half.
Even with Levingston’s big game Friday night, Los Alamos’ defense completely shut out St. Pius’ other main scoring threat. Forward Lauren Houliston, who had 18 points for the Sartans in the District 6AAAA championship game a week earlier, did not score in Friday’s game. Houliston managed to get off only four shots, all in the first half, and barely touched the ball in the second half.
Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said afterward her defense was quite wary of Houliston and was thrilled that she was made fully a non-factor Friday.
The defensive effort was all the more impressive as the Hilltoppers (20-10) were without one of their best hustle players, Sarah Worland. Worland, who twinged her back in last week’s loss to Española Valley, dressed out for the ballgame, but Logan said she was hoping not to have to use her unless it was absolutely necessary.
Filling in for Worland Friday night was Feliz Pacheco. Pacheco more than filled the void, turning in perhaps her best effort of the season.
“It’s always difficult, but Feliz and Tina (Radosevich) really picked it up,” Richins said. “That made the difference.”
Pacheco said Los Alamos knew it would need a total team effort to beat St. Pius – some expressed surprise the Sartans (15-11) slipped all the way down to a 12 seed in the tournament.
“We can’t stress that enough,” Pacheco said. “We pulled together in this game. Our last game against St. Pius was a hiccup. There were no hiccups this game. We were going strong. We passed well. We wanted to control the tempo and not let St. Pius control it.”
On offense, Taylor Ealey once again came up big. Ealey, Los Alamos 5-foot-11 forward, finished with 22 points despite getting in foul trouble in the first half.
Ealey had 10 points in the first half even though she had to sit out for much of the second quarter. In the third quarter, playing for several minutes with three fouls, Ealey went 3-for-4 form the field and finished with 8 points. Her drive to the basket from the low block capped an 8-0 Los Alamos run to open the third quarter, giving the Hiltoppers a 37-23.
The Hilltoppers led 45-31 after three periods – Kamille Chavez hit a layup at the buzzer off an assist from Richins – and moved out to a 50-33 edge on Richins’ 3-pointer in the fourth quarter.
But the Sartans, who forced 10 turnovers in the final quarter of the Jan. 26 victory at Los Alamos, used a nearly identical press the rest of the way. The result was 9 Hilltopper turnovers in the period and a 15-6 run which whittled Los Alamos’ advantage down to just 8 twice in the quarter.
Richins, however, would hit a bucket with 1:10 remaining and, to finish the contest, sank a pair of free throws with just 3.5 seconds left following a Sartan intentional foul.
Radosevich, for her part, finished with 7 points off the bench and grabbed three offensive rebounds in the first half.
The Hilltoppers will meet Española Valley’s Sundevils (25-4), who have beaten the Hilltoppers in three of four meetings, including twice during the 2AAAA tournament.
The Sundevils, the fourth seed in the state tournament, topped the Silver Colts Friday at home, 55-36.
The Colts trailed by just five at the half Friday, but the Sundevils pulled away in the second half to earn their trip to the quarterfinals.
Los Alamos 63, St. Pius X 56
St. Pius – Lauren Houliston 0-4 0-0 0, Elisha Levingston 14-25 7-11 36, Kristin Fattor 3-4 0-1 6, Victoria Perko 0-2 0-0 0, Nicole Puissant 0-4 2-4 2, Taylor Mallak 0-0 0-0 0, Allie Ortega 1-2 1-4 3, Carla Villareal 3-6 0-0 6, Minne Estrada 0-2 0-3 0, Megan Martinez 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 22-51 10-23 56.
Los Alamos – Shelby Courtright 5-6 2-4 12, Tyree Richins 4-9 2-2 12, Jenny Tumas 1-5 1-1 3, Feliz Pacheco 1-2 0-0 2, Taylor Ealey 7-14 7-9 22, Tina Radosevich 3-7 1-1 7, Chase Ealey 0-0 0-0 0, Kamille Chavez 1-2 0-0 2, Kate Rooney 0-0 1-2 1, Lindsay Benage 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-46 14-19 63.
3-point goals – SP 2-9 (Martinez 1-2, Levingston 1-3, Houliston 0-2, Fattor 0-1, Estrada 0-1), LA 3-10 (Richins 2-4, T. Ealey 1-3, Courtright 0-1, Radosevich 0-1). Fouled out – Ortega (4th, 2:44). Total fouls – SP 20, LA 18. Technicals – None.