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ESPAÑOLA — If the District 2AAAA race doesn’t turn out like the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team wants, it won’t be because of Tuesday’s game.
Los Alamos, which still needs a lot of things to go right in order to win the district regular season championship, is still mathematically in the hunt for that title and the automatic bid to the state tournament that goes with it.
Tuesday, the Hilltoppers upended the Española Valley Sundevils on the Sundevils’ home floor and kept themselves alive for the 2AAAA title.
Sarah Worland’s half-court prayer was answered at the buzzer of the third quarter which seemed to spark the Hilltoppers heading into the fourth quarter. The Hilltoppers dominated the final period to win 48-38 at Edward Medina Gymnasium.
As the clock hit all zeroes in the third quarter, Worland, a junior guard, rifled an overhand shot from just inside Los Alamos’ territory toward the basket. The shot skipped into the cylinder giving her team a 27-24 lead heading into the final period of what had been until then a low-scoring ballgame.
“I don’t even know where that came from,” Worland said. “We had two seconds left, so I just shot it up there. I was as surprised as everyone else.”
Tuesday’s win was significant on numerous levels. For one, it breathed life back into a district that seemed all but decided going in. It also puts unexpected pressure on the Sundevils to win their regular season finale — albeit they’re going against district doormat Bernalillo.
Of utmost importance, however, is that now, if Los Alamos can beat Capital Friday night and Bernalillo can somehow pull off a grand upset over Española Valley, Los Alamos would win the regular season title, a scenario that seemed farfetched just a few days ago.
Los Alamos’ 10-point win wrenched a potential tiebreaker from Española Valley’s hands. The first tiebreaker between teams that split their regular season contests is point differential and the Sundevils beat the Hilltoppers by nine points in their first meeting Jan. 31.
The Hilltoppers still must beat the Capital Jaguars, a team they lost to Feb. 3, or their potential top seed could just as quickly become a three seed.
Worland said where the Hilltoppers do ultimately end up is of little consequence to her and her teammates.
“It doesn’t matter what seed we get,” she said. “We’ve got to come out and play our hardest. We came down here (to Española) and did it once. We can do it again.”
Los Alamos broke open a tight ballgame in the fourth quarter by dominating the inside on offense and limiting Española Valley’s second-shot chances, something it hadn’t done very well in the first three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, The Hilltoppers’ two main inside scoring threats, Bryanna Richins and Taylor Ealey, came up big, combining for 19 points.
Richins, who missed Los Alamos’ game against Bernalillo Saturday, had a relatively quiet game until the fourth quarter. In that quarter, however, she dropped in eight points, four of those coming on offensive rebounds.
Ealey also had four second-chance points in the quarter, hitting those buckets on back-to-back trips down the floor. Her first putback, coming with 1:29 remaining in the period, put Los Alamos up by nine points as Española Valley had just squandered two chances to get back into the ballgame.
Ealey finished with a game-high 19 points and also grabbed 17 rebounds. Richins had 10 points in the contest.
Things didn’t start off nearly as well as they finished for the Hilltoppers Tuesday, however, when the Hilltoppers turned the ball over on each of their first four possessions.
Turnovers plagued Los Alamos in the teams’ Jan. 31 meeting. Although Los Alamos actually lost the ball 27 times compared to 25 times in the first game, it was generally able to handle the Sundevils’ high-pressure defense better for most of the contest.
“They finally decided they wanted to win, and they did what they had to do to win,” Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said afterward.
It was an uphill climb most of the night. Because Los Alamos had trouble hanging onto the ball again — Nisa Duran, who hurt Los Alamos throughout the first game, had four steals Tuesday — and got off just 34 shots in the game to Española Valley’s 56.
Fortunately, Los Alamos was able to convert on 16 field goal attempts (47.1 percent) while Española Valley connected just 13 times (23.2 percent).
The teams combined for just 15 points in the first quarter. The Hilltoppers (14-11 overall, 5-2 in 2AAAA) led 18-14 at the end of the first half, despite taking just nine shots compared with 14 turnovers.
“What I thought was that, ‘OK, let’s get the jitterbugs out,’” Logan said of the first half. “We’ve got to come meet the passes … It’s going to take all five players on the court to do that.”
Los Alamos built its first half lead on the strength of its foul shooting, converting 8 of 12 attempts, while Ealey had four of her team’s five first half buckets.
Shelby Courtright had eight points coming off the bench Tuesday, doing a good job for the Hilltoppers moving down the baseline and grabbing interior passes. Worland finished with seven points.
For the Sundevils, last season’s All-District 2AAAA Player of the Year Megan Martinez had a quiet night, hitting just 3 of 13 shots (1-for-7 beyond the 3-point line) and finishing with seven points. Duran again led the Sundevils with 13 points and Melanie Vigil had eight.
“We knew this was going to be a huge game,” Worland said. “Española’s hard. It’s a tough environment to play in, but everyone stepped up. We got off to a slow start but we knew what we had to do and we did it.”
Los Alamos JV 37, Española Valley JV 35
After trailing for most of Tuesday’s game, the Los Alamos Hilltopper junior varsity came back on the Española Valley Sundevils in the third quarter to win.
Los Alamos outscored Española Valley 14-8 in the third quarter, taking a 28-25 lead into the final period.
Tina Radosevich, who led Los Alamos with nine points Tuesday, hit an old-fashioned 3-point play late in the game to help the Hilltoppers secure the victory.
Beth Wendelberger finished with six points for Los Alamos.