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Girls basketball: Toppers clinch 2AAAA, trip to postseason

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By Mike Cote

Even with the regular season District 2AAAA title now officially in the bag, don’t expect the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls varsity basketball team to have much down time.Los Alamos clinched the 2AAAA regular season crown, a ticket to the District 2AAAA championship game, which will be played at Griffith Gymnasium, and most importantly, a slot in the Class AAAA state tournament with a 47-26 rout of Española Valley Wednesday.There’s still plenty of basketball yet to be played, however, and the Hilltoppers don’t want to go flat in the final regular season contests or take any chances on raising eyebrows of the AAAA seeding committee.“We’re not going to back off, period,” Los Alamos head coach Gerry Washburn said after Wednesday’s win. “I learned a long time ago you can’t do that. We’ll stay pretty much with our normal practice routine through the state tournament.”Los Alamos’ domination of its 2AAAA opponents continued Wednesday against one of only two teams going into the night that was still mathematically alive in the district race.The Sundevils, which gave the Hilltoppers a tougher-than-expected time in Española Jan. 25, were simply no match in round two at Griffith Gym. The Sundevils were held to eight points in the first quarter of play and wouldn’t even score that many in the other three quarters.Española Valley, which now will likely have to duke it out with Taos for second place, hit just 11 of 44 field goal attempts, including just four field goals in the second and third quarters put together.On the other end of the floor, Los Alamos did exactly what it has been trying to do all season: work the ball around on the perimeter until something opens up down low.Hilltopper post Taylor Ealey, who has emerged this district season as one of 2AAAA’s marquee players, dropped in a game-high 17 points, 11 of those coming in the first half to help her team to a 28-14 advantage at the half. At one point in the first half, Ealey hit four straight shots, including a runner in the lane at the 2:18 mark to get the rout going in earnest.While one would never have guessed by looking at the Hilltoppers, Ealey said there were some jitters prior to tip-off.“We came into this game and it was really scary for all of us,” she said. “After winning it, everyone sounded really relieved in the locker room.”Los Alamos did throw the ball away five times in the first quarter, and Española Valley converted on two of those turnovers, but gave up the ball just twice in the middle quarters.Hilltopper guard Sarah Ethridge, who dropped down into the paint numerous times on the night, finished with 13 points. Bryanna Richins, who had a career-high 25 against the Sundevils in their first meeting, had seven points but dished out five assists on the inside.Megan Martinez, Española Valley’s main scoring threat, had 13 points Wednesday. Renee Roybal had eight points, but no other Sundevil finished with more than two.The Sundevils (4-14 overall, 2-3 in 2AAAA) still has a shot at the second seed for the district tournament, but will likely have to win their final their games, including their season finale over the second-place Taos Tigers.Taos (12-12 overall, 4-2 in 2AAAA) beat Española Valley in the teams’ first meeting Monday at Taos.The Hilltoppers (14-9 overall, 6-0 in 2AAAA) are hoping to close out the season with three more wins, their two remaining regular season contests and the district tournament championship game.“I still think we should take Capital and Bernalillo seriously,” Ealey said. “It will be more practice for the postseason. Hopefully, we’ll go undefeated.”Los Alamos hosts Capital Saturday, then closes at Bernalillo Feb. 22.“The key is to keep focused,” Washburn said. “We can’t let up. We’ll tighten the screws…the pressure’s going to start to go up.”