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ESPAÑOLA — Trying to pry the District 2AAAA title out of Española Valley’s grip proved difficult for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team, even with Española Valley struggling to get the ball in the hole.
Los Alamos had its best team defensive effort of the season against Española Valley in the District 2AAAA tournament championship game Saturday, holding its opponent to just a 14-for-41 shooting night (34.1 percent).
Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers couldn’t muster enough offense of their own, converting just three buckets in the second half. Española Valley’s Sundevils, meanwhile, generated enough offense to pull away late, winning 36-25.
It was the third straight district tournament title for the Sundevils, who knocked off the Hilltoppers in all three instances to earn the crown.
The Sundevils will now head into the Class 4A playoffs, the seedings of which will be announced later today. Sundevil head coach Ron Drake said he knew topping the Hilltoppers for the third time this season would be a challenge.
“They’ve gotten much better,” Drake said. “They were on a mission (Saturday) and they only had one day to prepare for us.”
It was the third victory for Española Valley over Los Alamos this season and its 10th victory in 11 chances spanning the last three years.
Hilltopper head coach Tarah Logan liked her defense’s effort — Española Valley had broken 60 points in both previous meetings this season — and liked the fact her team took pains to slow the ball down on offense, but said the offense got too slow in the second half.
“Part of our strategy was to slow things down, play a calm, controlled game,” she said. “At times our offense was perfect, but we’re still working on it….It’s a disciplined offense, we slowed it down too much. We’ve got to have faster motion on the outside.”
Los Alamos, which couldn’t wrench either the district tournament or regular season titles from Española Valley (21-2 overall, 9-0 in 2AAAA), must now wait for the release of the state brackets — those are scheduled to be posted on the New Mexico Activities Association’s website, www.nmact.org — to see if it earned an at-large bid. With 10 wins this season over Class 4A opponents, plus decent showings in losing efforts against Española Valley and Piedra Vista late in the season, an at-large nod for the Hilltoppers (13-14, 7-3 in 2AAAA) seems likely.
Saturday, the Hilltoppers held the Sundevils to just 16 points in the first half. The Hilltoppers used good man-to-man defense to throw off the Sundevils’ rhythm and the Sundevils, normally a very good shooting team, were forced to throw up some wild shots throughout the first half.
Drake, who’s hopeful his team can get a top four seed — the Sundevils are one of five teams to have won 20 or more games in 4A this year — said the offensive showing he saw Saturday isn’t going to get the job done in the playoffs.
“We’ve got to get our offense going a little better,” he said. “We lost a lot of points off last year’s team. They come through in the clutch, but we’ve got to get more points.”
Española Valley converted a meager 6 of 21 from the floor in the first half. Los Alamos didn’t fare any better, going 4 of 17 in that same span, however, and didn’t help its own cause by misfiring on half of its 10 free throw attempts.
Los Alamos was paced by Tina Radosevich. Radosevich dropped in nine points, eight in the first half to keep her team within striking distance. With time winding down in the half, Radosevich went underneath the basket to retrieve a loose ball and lay it in to tie the score at 14.
Defensively, Los Alamos contained Española Valley’s main scoring threat, Justine Vigil, for all but a short burst in the fourth quarter. Vigil, who lit up Los Alamos for 27 points in the first meeting between the teams in late January, finished with 10 Saturday, one of just two players in double-figures — Lauren Quintana led all scorers with 11.On the offensive end, the Hilltoppers wanted to use a controlled passing game and wait for good looks, trying to neutralize the Sundevils’ main weapon, the quick bucket in transition.
While Los Alamos did a good job of limiting its turnovers for most of the game, Los Alamos struggled to speed its offense back up after falling behind in the second half.
Following Radosevich, Hayley Each finished with six points. No other Hilltopper had more than four.
Logan said her team isn’t planning to gather together today to watch for the release of the 4A bracket, but she said she’s hopeful the Hilltoppers will get a favorable draw.
“I think there’s a good chance for a 12 or 13 seed,” she said. “Eleven would be better. I would love to get that, but with this process, you never know either way. If we get a bid, we’ll be happy.”