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The one thing the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team wanted to do going into the first quarter of its opener Saturday was relax.
But the squad may have relaxed too much against a team that knows how to attack and attack quickly.
Los Alamos was outscored 24-5 in the first quarter of Saturday’s game at Griffith Gymnasium. Although Los Alamos was able to play Pojoaque’s Elks nearly even the rest of the way, spotting the defending Class AAA champion 19 points was far too much to come back from.
Pojoaque knocked off the host Hilltoppers 63-41 Saturday at Griffith Gym, spoiling the head coaching debut of Tarah Logan.
The Hilltoppers hit just two field goals in the opening quarter, while the Elks forced nine first quarter turnovers and translated them into 15 points on the opposite end of the floor. After an initial bucket by Bryanna Richins, Los Alamos wouldn’t convert again until the final two seconds of the first quarter when Cora Pack scored on a press-break layup.
“We just couldn’t put it together fast enough,” Logan said. “We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be on offense or defense.”
After what Logan though was an initial bout of nerves, Los Alamos settled down in the second quarter and actually outscored Pojoaque 15-14.
Pojoaque, which could well be in the hunt for a second-straight AAA title this season, ran the ball down the floor well all night and guards Dionna Montoya and Marissa Romero showed an uncanny ability to drive straight to the basket or go to the baseline and find center Jackie Bartleson uncovered down low.
Bartleson, a 6-foot-2 inch transfer from Santa Fe, dominated in the low post Saturday, dropping in 19 points and blocking two shots.
In the second half, Los Alamos spent a lot of time shooting from the outside, not the least of reasons being Bartleson’s presence near the baseline.
“I think that just kind of happened, but we’ve been talking about getting more outside shots,” Richins said. “We want to pull the zone out and it kind of worked for us.”
The Hilltoppers struggled with nerves throughout the early portion of the game as well, which didn’t help things in the early minutes.
“I think we just have to settle down,” Richins said. “We found out what we need to do at the beginning and not be nervous for the first part.”
The Hilltoppers (0-1) never got closer than 15 points, that coming in the early part of the second quarter when Shelby Courtright got a kick-out pass from Richins and drove past her defender for a score with 6:04 remaining.
With Los Alamos trying to get back into contention in the second quarter, Pojoaque’s Ellen Cruz converted two old-fashioned 3-point plays on consecutive trips down the floor.
Cruz was one of three Elks to finish in double-figures Saturday. She dropped in 18 points, while Montoya finished with 13.
“Offensively, we don’t want to rely on any one thing,” Pojoaque head coach Lanse Carter said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons that we can go to.”
Los Alamos dressed only nine players Saturday — Sarah Worland was out of town — but eight got into the scoring column.
Taylor Ealey, Los Alamos’ main offensive threat near the basket, finished with 13 to pace her team.
Point guard Tyree Richins finished with seven points. Richins’ biggest contribution of the game, however, was on defense. She finished with five steals, including a pair in the second half as the Hilltoppers attempted to dig themselves out of their hole.
Los Alamos did force 17 Pojoaque turnovers, but had 25 turnovers itself, although it coughed up the ball just once in the third quarter and eight times in the second half.
After Ealey and Richins, no other Hilltopper finished with more than four points.
For the contest, the Hilltoppers shot just 15 of 43 from the field (34.9 percent). The Elks managed a red-hot 27 of 52 shooting night (51.9 percent).
“One thing we did well was that we had some 3s,” Logan said. “That’s new for this team.”
Los Alamos took 17 3-pointers — a figure that hasn’t often been approached during the past several seasons — although it only connected on four of those attempts. Ealey hit a pair of 3s, while Tyree Richins had one while Kate Rooney had the other on her only field goal attempt of the game.
The Elks (2-0) have won both their games this season in similar fashion. They topped Mora to open the season a week earlier by a count of 62-38.
Carter said his squad will be in for a dogfight just to get out of its own District 2AAA with three legitimate contenders — Santa Fe Indian School, St. Michael’s and Robertson — to deal with, let alone to make another run in the AAA playoffs.
“We put it together at the right time last year,” he said. “The credit goes to these kids and their chemistry.”
Los Alamos, meanwhile, will have another big hurdle to clear in its second game of the season Tuesday, that coming on the road against last season’s Class AAAA runner-up Kirtland Central. While Kirtland Central lost some key players off that squad, the Broncos rarely have trouble finding other players to take their place.