Girls basketball: Toppers, Jaguars will butt heads

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By Mike Cote

In what’s been a roller coaster season, one of the lowest points for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team was a two-game stretch early in the district regular season.

After a pair of big wins, against Taos and Bernalillo, Los Alamos went on a two-game slide. It was rattled by the full- and three-quarter-court pressure from both the Española Valley Sundevils and the Capital Jaguars, dropping both those games — one in late January, one in early February.

Los Alamos will be looking to avoid a repeat of that stretch during the District 2AAAA tournament, which rolls through Los Alamos Thursday night.

The Hilltoppers (15-11 overall) will take on Capital’s Jaguars (8-18) at Griffith Gymnasium in the tournament’s semifinal. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., about a half-hour after the conclusion of the boys 2AAAA semifinal.

The winner of Thursday’s game will play the Sundevils for the district championship Saturday night.

Los Alamos was disappointed to say the least following that two-game slide. Although Los Alamos was able to bounce back and beat both Española Valley and Capital in the second round of district play, Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan knows how dangerous those squads can be and can’t let anything distract her team, especially not the upcoming Class AAAA playoff selection committee meeting.

“Right now, my focus is on getting us ready. We’re focused on the district tournament,” she said. “Our goal is to get to the district championship game and win it.”

Los Alamos has won three straight 2AAAA championships, but will have to upend Española Valley Saturday to make it a fourth. The Sundevils won the 2AAAA regular season championship and earned the right to host the tournament’s title game.

The Hilltoppers will go into Thursday’s game with the psychological edge, however, after drubbing the Jaguars 60-39 Friday night in their regular season finale.

In that game, Los Alamos’ forward Taylor Ealey went ballistic in the second half, dropping in 20 points to lead the rout.

“If I was Capital coming here again, my No. 1 concern would be Taylor Ealey,” Logan said. “She took over that game in the second half.”

Ealey finished with a game-high 26 points, her third-highest offensive output of the season.

Aiding Ealey in the scoring column were Bryanna Richins, who had 13 points, and Shelby Courtright and Sarah Worland, each finishing with six.

Tyree Richins had five assists and two steals in Friday’s game.

Richins, who was coming back from illness in the teams’ first meeting Feb. 3, has been a stabilizing force since being back. In the Feb. 3 game, Capital forced 25 turnovers, many coming near the timeline, which was a big factor in its 62-54 win.

Logan gave Richins and Worland a lot of credit, not only for getting turnovers under control but for on-the-court leadership which has helped it win four straight district contests.

Logan feels her team is playing its best basketball right now and likes her chances of earning the district tournament title.

Whoever wins the district tournament is assured of a spot in the upcoming state AAAA playoffs, although because of rule change last year, the district tournament runner-up is no longer guaranteed a spot. Española Valley has already clinched a berth in the playoffs with its regular season district title.

There is a glut of teams hovering at or a little above the .500 mark in Class AAAA right now — Aztec, Silver, Albuquerque Academy, Artesia, Grants and Los Alamos — and it’s very pssible one or two of those teams will get frozen out of the playoffs.