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For one half, the Los Alamos Hillltopper girls basketball team was able to hang with its arch-rival.
But in the third quarter of Wednesday’s game, Española Valley’s Sundevils held the Hilltoppers to a lone field goal to pull away and eventually win a critical District 2-4A contest.
Los Alamos went just 1-for-9 from the floor in that third quarter and turned the ball over five times. Meanwhile, Española Valley’s Lauren Quintana and Cassie Trujillo combined for nine of the team’s 15 third quarter points as the Sundevils took a 52-35 decision at Griffith Gymnasium.
The win gave the Sundevils sole possession of second place in the 2-4A standings with five regular season district contests remaining.
The loss for Los Alamos was its second double-digit defeat in consecutive district contests. It’s unlikely the Hilltoppers can weather another defeat in district and maintain any realistic shot at the regular season title.
Los Alamos and Española Valley, longtime rivals, tend to win against each other in bunches.
Los Alamos had two long winning streaks over Española Valley in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, but the Sundevils currently have beaten Los Alamos in 11 of their last 12 meetings.
Española Valley head coach Ron Drake, who can be credited with much of the recent Sundevil success, said it a win Wednesday was critical for his group.
“This was very important,” said Drake, one of the winningest active coaches in New Mexico, who picked up his 98th victory with the Sundevil program. “We lost that first game (against Santa Fe), so every game is more important than ever. I knew it would be tougher in district this year. Bernalillo’s better, Los Alamos is tough and Santa Fe with those two freshmen…that put us in a bind. Now we have to play every game like it’s our last.”
Española Valley (19-3 overall, 2-1 in 2-4A) has won three straight 2-4A titles, but because of Santa Fe’s upset over the Sundevils in the district opener, along with Santa Fe’s decisive victory Friday at home against Los Alamos (10-11, 1-2) everyone is currently looking up at the Demons (12-6, 2-0).
Los Alamos played a solid first half on defense, holding Española Valley to just 9 of 24 shooting (37.5 percent) through two quarters.
Offensively, Los Alamos was able to hit some timely shots, particularly in the second quarter as McKenzie Logan dropped in seven points. Logan sparked a 7-0 Hilltopper run that quelled a hot start by the Sundevils, hitting a 3-poiner and scoring on a putback attempt with 4:36 to go, cutting a 9-point Sundevil edge down to four.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, Logan got into foul trouble late in the second quarter and played only sparingly the rest of the game. Logan fouled out early in the fourth quarter on what appeared to be a clean shot block of Cassie Trujillo.
In the second half, Los Alamos went cold from the field, however. It connected on just three field goals and turned the ball over 10 times, a problem the Hilltoppers have suffered with throughout the season but something they managed to control in the first half.
Quintana had 11 points for the Sundevils in the second half, while Ashlyn Trujillo, an eighth grader, had a solid outing for the Sundevils, scoring seven points and collected five rebounds.
Drake said he caught some flak for bringing up two eighth graders to varsity this year — Kaitlyn Romero, another good-looking player, is the other — but his roster moves have paid dividends so far this year.
For the Hilltoppers, center Hayley Each — who missed the Santa Fe contest due to illness — had 10 points, as did center Monika Teter coming off the bench. Los Alamos reserve guard Elena Atencio had a good non-statistical game, helping anchor the Los Alamos defense in the first half.
Los Alamos has one more game remaining, Saturday against the struggling Capital Jaguars, and it will have seen every team in district. While it will next get to see Santa Fe at Griffith Gym — that game is scheduled for Feb. 8 — it still must travel to the valley for a second game against the Sundevils Feb. 11.
Española Valley 52,
Los Alamos 35
Española Valley 11 12 15 14—52
Los Alamos 8 12 3 12—35
Española Valley — Maria Serna 3-8 3-4 9, Laura Duran 0-3 0-0 0, Lauen Quintana 6-14 7-10 19, Lilly Martinez 1-2 1-4 3, Desiree Howie 2-4 3-4 7, Kaitlyn Romero 0-0 2-3 2, Ashlyn Trujillo 3-9 1-2 7, Cassie Trujillo 1-1 3-4 5, Kayla Romero 0-0 0-0 0, Kristen Archuleta 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-41 20-31 52.
Los Alamos — Ashley Logan 0-4 1-2 1, Hayley Each 5-10 0-2 10, Marissa Higdon 0-3 0-0 0, Erin Kirk 0-6 6-8 6, McKenzie Logan 3-10 0-0 7, Elena Atencio 0-1 0-2 0, Monika Teter 3-7 4-6 10, Marissa Larribas 0-1 1-4 1, Christine Larribas 0-0 0-0 0, Cristina Perez 0-0 0-0 0, Christina Moore 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 11-43 12-24 35.
3-point goals — EV 0-5 (Quintana 0-3, Duran 0-1, Howie 0-1), LA 1-12 (M. Logan 1-2, Kirk 0-5, A. Logan 0-3, Each 0-2). Total fouls — EV 21, LA 22. Fouled out — M. Logan (4th, 6:53). Technicals — None.