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Girls basketball: Toppers thump Hawks at home

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By Mike Cote

Even bringing in a whole new school couldn’t change Lisa Villareal’s luck inside Griffith Gymnasium.

Villareal, the head coach of the Volcano Vista Hawks and formerly the head coach of the Española Valley Sundevils, has seen her teams struggle far more often than not in their visits to Griffith Gymnasium. Tuesday night was no exception.

The host Los Alamos Hilltoppers jumped out to a 16-2 lead just a little more than five minutes into Tuesday’s contest. Other than a mid-third quarter push by the Hawks, one which fizzled out quickly, the Hilltoppers bulldozed their way to a 68-35 victory.

Los Alamos, which struggled for much of the early part of the season putting points on the board, had no such problems Tuesday. Using one of its best outside shooting performances of the season, Los Alamos got Volcano Vista to overextend its defense early and did virtually anything it wanted to on the offensive end.

“I think we came off pretty strong,” Hilltopper guard Kristina Radosevich said afterward. “We’re really motivated right now. We still need to make some improvements, but we’re getting there one step at a time.”

Tuesday’s win was the Hilltoppers’ third straight and fifth in seven outings. It also knocked them over the .500-win percentage for the first time this season (7-6).

As for Villareal, a highly-respected coach who guided the Española Valley Sundevils to a fourth-place finish in the 2000-01 season, she has yet to crack the Hilltoppers’ code. The Hilltoppers – under then coach Gerry Washburn – beat Villareal’s Sundevils eight straight times at one point over a three-year span, including the 2000-01 season in which Los Alamos defeated Española Valley five times, including the third-place game at the state AAAA tournament.

The Hawks (3-7) will actually move up to Class 5A next season. Volcano Vista High School, which is now just in its third year of existence drawing from the extreme west side of Albuquerque, is scheduled to have a full contingent of students starting next academic year – the school has no senior class to speak of this year.

As for the Hilltoppers, Tuesday’s game marked by far their biggest point total of the season, eclipsing their previous best that they had set just a game earlier, scoring 54 points against Ruidoso.

Los Alamos seniors Taylor Ealey and Tyree Richins led the way, scoring a combined 49 points.

Richins, who has been on a tear of late, hit 3 3-pointers in the first quarter Tuesday after Ealey, coming off a big showing at the Goddard Holiday Classic Invitational Tournament last week, opened up the scoring with a 3 of her own from the far right corner.

Richins scored 14 of her 23 points in the first half. For the game, she connected on 6 3-ponters.

Ealey, meanwhile, had 11 points in the third quarter on her way to a game-high 26, nearly matching her career high total of 27. Ealey’s big quarter shut the door on any hopes Volcano Vista might have had on mounting a comeback.

Despite a dominant first half from the Hilltoppers, the Hawks found themselves down by just 11 at the break. The Hawks put together a 6-0 run in the early stages of third quarter, cutting the Hilltopper lead, which had been as much as 14, down to just 8 with 6:10 remaining.

But Ealey would put in 7 points in a little over two minutes and Richins would drain another 3-pointer late in the quarter, which took the wind right out from under the Hawks’ wings.

Radosevich had 9 points for the Hilltoppers coming off the bench in one of her best outings of the season.

Radosevich said the team has been looking for the type of offensive performances it has posted in its last three outings.

“We’ve been working on our 3s a lot,” she said. “It’s good we’ve started hitting them. That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, to shoot 3s, be a good outside shooting team. We have so many good outside shooters. It works out really well.”

The victory was a big one for Los Alamos on many levels, not the least of which being the fact that it picked up sixth win over a Class AAAA opponent, something that factors heavily into any potential at-large playoff bid the team might be looking at this season. Los Alamos is 6-2 against AAAA competition this predistrict season, although it still has three AAAA opponents left on its schedule – St. Pius X, Belen and Del Norte – before it opens up district play Jan. 19.