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After a ruinous second quarter, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team nearly made up for it in the second half of Tuesday’s game.
Los Alamos hosted the fourth-ranked St. Pius X Sartans Tuesday at Griffith Gymnasium. Not only are the two teams longtime rivals, Los Alamos had a chance to make a big statement with just over a week before the start of the District 2-4A season.
But the Hilltoppers, after playing virtually even with the Sartans in the opening period, managed just four points in the second quarter. The second of the two buckets the Hilltoppers managed in the quarter came with under 30 seconds left before the half.
Los Alamos would make a game out of it in the second half, but the Sartans would make some key buckets and free throws in the final quarter to pick up a 48-43 victory.
The game was another disappointment for Los Alamos, which has played well against tough competition this season, but was a few key possessions away from victory.
“That second quarter, we were just flat,” Los Alamos first-year head coach Fil Dominguez said. “We had no energy. We had no communication on defense. When we have communication on defense, the energy’s there, but we were just flat.”
Moreover, turnovers killed Los Alamos in the second quarter. Los Alamos coughed up the ball on each of its first nine possessions of the quarter and managed to get off just five shots for the entire eight minutes.
St. Pius (10-4) took advantage, outscoring Los Alamos by 14 points in the quarter, taking a 26-11 edge into the locker room. St. Pius’ bruising center, Nic Stafford, punished Los Alamos down low, dropping in nine points to help his team build the edge.
Stafford would finally be slowed in the second half. Los Alamos switched tactics on Stafford, who has a deceptively fast drop-step, and instead of trying to force him to post up, started fronting him in the second half, limiting his touches underneath.
In the second half, Los Alamos mounted an impressive comeback, holding the Sartans to just five points in the third quarter.
Nick Baker, who has been the Hilltoppers’ best player throughout the nondistrict season, stole the ball twice in the third quarter, both of which led to Los Alamos fast break points.
Meanwhile, Los Alamos connected on a pair of 3-pointers — one by Nate Carver and the other by Salvador Salaiz. Salaiz hit his 3 with just 8.0 seconds remaining, trimming the St. Pius lead to 31-26.
Carver, who led the Hilltoppers with eight points Tuesday, opened the fourth quarter with his second 3-pointer, this one from near the top of the key, to get the Hilltoppers within two.
Unfortunately, the Sartans would put together a quick 10-1 run over the next 2:20 to retake a double-digit advantage. Joe Sanchez, who had 12 points for St. Pius, nailed a 3-pointer to push the St. Pius lead back to 41-30 with 5:22 remaining.
Baker finished the night with seven points and five assists, while Daniel Salazar also had seven points.
Tuesday’s loss was the fifth in seven outings for Los Alamos (5-10), which has kept pace with very good teams such as Taos, Goddard and Volcano Vista in the previous three weeks but finished on the losing end of all three contests.
Los Alamos also took its fifth defeat at the hands of a Class 4A program, a mark which could come back to haunt the team if it ends up on the bubble come playoff selection time.
For the Sartans, it was their second victory over a District 2-4A team — they defeated Bernalillo handily in early December.
St. Pius X 48, Los Alamos 43
St. Pius 8 18 5 17—48
Los Alamos 7 4 15 17—43
St. Pius — Micah Sanchez 2-7 1-1 6, Brandon Altamirano 3-8 1-2 7, Joe Sanchez 3-4 5-8 12, Nic Stafford 7-12 3-3 17, Larry Walden 2-4 2-2 6, Nick Ortiz 0-4 0-2 0, Troy Casaus 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Molina 0-1 0-0 0, Taylor Whitener 0-0 0-0 0, Albert Sanchez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-41 12-18 48.
Los Alamos — Thomas Russell 2-10 1-1 6, Daniel Salazar 2-5 2-2 7, Nate Carver 2-8 2-4 8, Nick Baker 3-4 1-4 7, Salvador Salaiz 1-1 1-2 4, Bobby Sanders 3-6 0-0 6, Derrick Salazar 0-0 0-0 0, Franklin Archuleta 1-1 0-0 2, Xavier Dennison 0-0 0-0 0, Seth Drop 0-0 3-3 3, Skyler Veenis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-35 10-13 43.
3-point goals — SPX 2-6 (M. Sanchez 1-3, J. Sanchez 1-1, Ortiz 0-2), LA 5-12 (Carver 2-6, Baker 1-2, Russell 1-1, Salaiz 1-1, Sanders 0-2). Total fouls — SPX 17, LA 17. Fouled out — None. Technicals — None.