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Girls basketball: Toppers fall in playoff game Tuesday

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By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — While the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team went down, it is hardly out.

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The Hilltoppers dropped a 1-game playoff to the Española Valley Sundevils Tuesday night. The Sundevils led for all but a brief stint in the first quarter, rolling to a 55-35 victory at Edward Ortiz Gymnasium.

Going into Tuesday’s playoff game, in which the district regular season title and an automatic berth into the state Class AAAA playoffs were on the line, Los Alamos knew it would need a performance much like it had in the fourth quarter of the teams’ most recent meeting.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for the Hilltoppers.

Los Alamos played some of its best motion offense of the season at Griffith Gymnasium in that Feb. 16 contest, in which it beat the  Sundevils 52-48 after being down by double digits in the second half.

Los Alamos thoroughly dominated in the paint and scored 20 points in the final eight minutes to earn that victory.

But, thanks in no small part to a heavy presence in the middle by the Española Valley defense, Los Alamos struggled to get its passes inside. What penetration Los Alamos’ guards got, for much of the game, was on the baseline and very often too far under the basket to set up many good looks.

Hilltopper head coach Tarah Logan said the passing wasn’t as crisp as it had been in recent Los Alamos games, either.

“We tried to hit the girls inside, but we were telegraphing our passes too much,” Logan said. “The forwards tried to set up for the guards, but the guards would hold on to the ball. When the forwards (released), then the pass would come.”

The Hilltoppers now will host the 2AAAA semifinal game Thursday afternoon. A win there would set them up with another head-to-head meeting with the Sundevils Friday night. That game, however, would be played at Española Valley.

While Los Alamos (18-8 overall, 7-2 in 2AAAA) didn’t sew up a state playoff berth, it is still right in line for a postseason at-large bid and, even in the event of being upset Thursday, would still be in little danger of missing out.

Los Alamos will play the winner of tonight’s game between Capital and Taos in Thursday’s semifinal.

The Sundevils, meanwhile, were just as happy to have an extra day off in between games as they were in earning the district title.

“We’ve got to get healthy,” said Española Valley veteran head coach Ron Drake. “We’ve got one player out and one player that just barely got back (Tuesday). She’s got to get a little healthier.”

Los Alamos couldn’t find the second half push it used in the Feb. 16 game Tuesday night. It shot just 7-for-24 from the field in the second half Tuesday, only slightly better than its 7-for-26 showing in the first half.

Hilltopper Taylor Ealey hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second half, one which sparked a 7-0 run in the final 2 minutes of the third quarter as Los Alamos threatened to get back into the game.

But Sundevil guard Nisa Duran scored 9 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter and the Sundevils scored a couple of quick buckets after beating the Hilltoppers’ full-court pressure, quickly ending the threat.

Tuesday’s loss snapped-a six-game win streak by the Hilltoppers, their second-longest of the season. Their previous loss had also been to the Sundevils (23-4 overall, 8-1 in 2AAAA).

The Hilltoppers are the only team to have beaten the Sundevils since late December.