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A furious third quarter comeback by the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team put a scare into the No. 1 Class AAAA team in the state Monday.
Los Alamos met the powerful Kirtland Central Broncos Monday afternoon at Griffith Gymnasium, the third game in four days against Four Corner-area opponents.
In Monday’s contest, the Hilltoppers trailed by 12 points at the break, but would hold the high-octane Broncos’ offense to just four points in the third quarter to chop that lead down to two with eight minutes remaining.
But the Broncos, who are rarely in the position of needing to come up with a big fourth quarter, managed to do exactly that en route to a 54-39 win.
Los Alamos’ defense, which has been solid all season, held Kirtland Central without a basket for nearly four minutes in the third quarter, while forward Taylor Ealey got hot. Ealey scored eight of her team-high 13 points in the third, getting an assist from younger sister Chase Ealey to cut the Kirtland Central lead in half from where it stood at the beginning of the quarter.
Chase Ealey hit a layup with just 3.0 seconds remaining in the period to make the score 36-34.
“Figuring out their press really helped a lot,” said Los Alamos forward Shelby Courtright, who added 11 points Monday. “We were able to get down court and run the ball. We made passes and got layups that got us back into the game.”
Los Alamos outscored Kirtland Central 14-4 in the quarter which came as a bit of surprise to the Broncos, who seemed to have all the momentum on their side heading into the locker room.
Kirtland Central (9-1), one of the top programs in the state with 17 state championships under its belt, grabbed its seventh-straight victory Monday.
While the Broncos have some other good wins to show for this season — over Santa Fe Indian School, Navajo Prep and Rio Rancho — one of the people least impressed with them is their head coach Charles Kromer.
“I told the girls before this game, we’re not ready for prime time yet,” Kromer said. “Against Durango (Colo.), we only shot 15 percent from the 3-point line. That’s not going to beat anyone in the state tournament. As that third quarter indicates, we’ve got some work to do.”
Despite being outdone on both ends of the floor in the third quarter, the Broncos were able to bounce back well. They started out the fourth quarter on a 10-0 run spanning four minutes, a streak that was broken by Courtright’s press break bucket at the quarter’s halfway point.
“It’s kind of disappointing,” Courtright said of the fourth quarter, in which the Hilltoppers were outscored 18-5. “At the same time, we now know we can play with them. The score didn’t show how good a game it was.”
Courtright had four points in the third quarter. She and Taylor Ealey combined to go 6-for-6 from the floor.
In the first half, Los Alamos was able to hang with Kirtland Central early, despite turning the ball over five times in the first quarter and eight times in the second. Sarah Worland put together one of her better halves of the season, scoring nine points — hitting all three of her shot attempts and 2 of 2 at the foul line — and had an assist and a steal.
For the game, however, the Hilltoppers turned the ball over 26 times against a team that is among the best in the state running the fast break.
For the Broncos, forward Amanda Kerr had 16 points, seven of those in the second quarter and five in the fourth.
Guard Monica Yazzie finished with nine. All but one of the Broncos that entered the game Monday scored.
Kerr, a returner from last season’s AAAA runner-up squad, said afterward she thought Kirtland Central would again be a factor come tournament time.
“(The season’s) going as I expected it to,” she said. “Everyone of these girls brings something new to the table…I think it’s showing.”
Monday’s loss snapped a two-game win streak against District 1AAAA teams for Los Alamos (4-5).
Los Alamos downed sixth-ranked Piedra Vista at home Friday night, then followed that up with a victory over Aztec the following night, also at Griffith Gym.
Los Alamos now has a week to prepare for another stiff challenge, going up against the second-ranked team in the state, Roswell, in the opening round of the Roswell Invitational.