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ESPAÑOLA — A pair of four-minute stretches, which happened nearly a full game in between, doomed the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team Saturday night.
In a critical early District 2AAAA contest Saturday, the Española Valley Sundevils jumped out to a huge early lead and survived a big Hilltopper push in the final quarter, in which they cut the Sundevil lead down to just one point. But with the Hilltoppers poised to take the lead late, the offense, which appeared to be finally getting cranked up, started to sputter.
Los Alamos was held scoreless the final 4:22 of Saturday’s ballgame, falling at Edward Medina Gymnasium 42-32.
Española Valley, the third-ranked team in the state according to the latest New Mexico High School Coaches Association poll, looked early like it might take Los Alamos to the woodshed. Española Valley went on an impressive 11-0 run during a 4-minute stretch in the first quarter hitting shots virtually at will to take a big 19-6 lead after one quarter.
The Sundevils, however, wouldn’t find that kind of mojo again until the Hilltoppers whittled that lead down in the fourth quarter.
Just when Española Valley looked to be in command Saturday, Los Alamos’ defense, which has carried the team throughout this season, hunkered down. It held Española Valley to just 10 points over the next two quarters, holding the Sundevils without a field goal for nearly 6 minutes in the second quarter.
Los Alamos’ offense, however, never got on track.
“We had a rough time from outside (Saturday),” Hilltopper head coach Tarah Logan said. “We struggled with our shooting. Thank goodness we came as close as we did. Our defense was fantastic.”
Los Alamos turned the ball over 6 times in the first quarter Saturday, but in the second quarter started generating the turnovers, forcing Española Valley to cough up the ball 9 times in the middle quarters.
Unfortunately, the Hilltopper offense, which seemed through the team’s recent 7-game win streak seemed to be fully on-track, never got going Saturday. The Hilltoppers scored just 8 points in the second quarter and hit only 3 field goals in the third quarter.
With 4:22 remaining in the game, Los Alamos forward Taylor Ealey hit a jumper following a Sundevil turnover to make the score 33-32, that bucket coming just 16 seconds after sister Chase Ealey steamrolled through Española Valley’s interior defense for a layup.
But Española Valley’s Nisa Duran, the 2008-09 District 2AAAA Player of the Year, came up with 6 of her game-high 16 points in the final quarter to help seal her team’s win.
Sundevil veteran head coach Ron Drake was wiping his brow with his signature shoulder towel following the game.
“They came out tough in the first quarter,” Drake said, talking about his team. “But we picked up a couple of fouls here and there and that set us back. But Los Alamos is a good team, too. They both are good teams. It’ll be a dogfight up there.”
While the Sundevils (17-3 overall, 2-0 in 2AAAA) took a one-half game district lead with Saturday’s victory, the two teams will meet in Los Alamos Feb. 16.
Neither team shot well Saturday. Following the first quarter, in which Española Valley connected on 7 of 14 from the floor, it managed just 8 more buckets in 33 attempts for the balance of the game. Los Alamos finished just 11 of 44 from the floor.
Logan pointed to not only the off shooting night but a 10-for-23 performance at the free throw line as the big factors in the loss.
For the Hilltoppers, forward Shelby Courtright finished with 11 points to lead. Courtright had a big night underneath the Hilltopper basket, scoring 5 of her points on second-chance attempts.
Also for Los Alamos, Taylor Ealey finished with 7 points. No other Hilltoppers had more than 4.
“We started to rush our shots a little,” Logan said of the team’s drought at the end of the game. “We tried to settle down, but we couldn’t convert those baskets at the end.”
Kristina Radosevich, who has been solid for Los Alamos coming off the bench in recent outings, gave her team two shots in the arm in the waning seconds of both the second and third quarters. Radosevich grabbed offensive rebounds with under 5 seconds remaining in both quarters and converted putback shots for her 4 points.
Española Valley guard Justine Vigil had 8 points Saturday, but was held scoreless in the second half.
The loss was the second inside of a week for Los Alamos (12-8 overall, 2-1 in 2AAAA) following its nearly month-long winning streak. That streak was snapped Monday with a loss at home to St. Pius X.