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One of the big challenges facing the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team this season is putting together four solid quarters.
But that’s what Los Alamos has been shooting for here at the end of the season, and in its last two games, it has gotten closer.
Los Alamos opened up its District 2-4A tournament run Tuesday night at home with a big win over the Bernalillo Spartans. Los Alamos survived a big bump in the road at the tail end of the first half to bounce back in the second half.
The Hilltoppers’ Amber Logan and Kiana Zerr had big performances in the second half, with Logan taking control of the game when her team needed her most, to earn a 72-62 decision over the Spartans.
Logan dropped in 10 of her 14 points after the break to lead the Hilltoppers back after what could’ve been a game-changing run by the Spartans in the second quarter.
Logan said Los Alamos is playing with the mindset that it must still earn its way into the playoffs and survive as long as it can to make its best argument with the selection committee.
“We felt like we have to win if we want to get into the state tournament,” the junior point guard said. “In the second half, we came out and worked our butts off.”
The Hilltoppers (13-14) looked like they might put Tuesday’s district quarterfinal game to bed early, taking a 10-point lead with 3:23 remaining on a 3-pointer by Kristen Paulson — the only shot she took in the game.
Everything seemed to be going Los Alamos’ way up to that point, but the Spartans (9-19) put together an impressive 13-1 run for the remainder of the period, spearheaded by their top scorer, Alleah Candelaria. Candelaria connected on a big 3-pointer and put in a running push shot at the buzzer to give Bernalillo a 32-30 advantage heading into the locker room.
Candelaria, who finished with 21 points in a tougher-than-expected contest the night before hosting Capital, had a game-high 23 points against Los Alamos, hitting five 3-pointers.
The Hilltopper defense struggled for much of the game getting out the perimeter and challenging her on those shots.
Along with Candelaria’s offensive performance, the Spartans owned the boards late in the first half, grabbing five offensive rebounds in the second quarter alone.
Logan said afterward stretches like that are what Los Alamos has to avoid to make a run in this tournament.
“We came out and we wanted to win, but we weren’t doing everything we needed to,” she said. “In the second half we had to get those boards and do those little things we weren’t doing.”
It didn’t take long in the second half, however, for the Hilltoppers to get back on track. They regained the lead midway through the quarter with Logan leading several fast break chances, that coming after her team did a better job of neutralizing Bernalillo on the boards.
Logan had two lightning-quick takes to the basket, taking the ball straight down the lane for key buckets.
Zerr, meanwhile, had a quiet first half, but helped the Hilltoppers break the game open in the fourth quarter.
Zerr finished with 9 of her team-high 18 points in the final period, taking advantage of the absence of Anelisia Peña and Dominique Garviso, Bernalillo’s posts down low, who got in foul trouble in the second half. Zerr had four field goals in the final period, including a layup off a Logan assist with about 2:30 remaining that all but salted the game away.
Also for the Hilltoppers, McKenzie Logan, who had a monster showing in Saturday’s win over the Artesia Bulldogs, finished with 11 points — she sat out much of the second and third quarters with foul trouble — while Alison Crane added 10 points.
Rachel Darnell had 18 points for the Spartans, who were eliminated from the tournament with Tuesday’s loss and probably won’t get any serious consideration for inclusion in the state Class 4A playoff field.
With the victory, Los Alamos now travels to take on Española Valley in the quarterfinal round of the 2-4A tournament. Española Valley was given the No. 2 seed in the tournament after losing a one-game playoff Monday night to Santa Fe, 63-44.
Los Alamos and Española Valley will lock horns at 7 p.m. Thursday. The winner advances to Saturday’s 2-4A championship game at Santa Fe.