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For three quarters, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team played as well or better than the Santa Fe Demons in a big District 2-4A contest.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Demons’ powerful offense showed up.
Santa Fe, the No. 1 team in Class 4A and the only undefeated team in all of New Mexico, showed why it held those distinctions. Santa Fe scored 18 points and held the Hilltoppers to just 8 points to come away with a victory and spoil the Hilltoppers’ upset bid Friday at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Demons’ powerful scoring tandem of Jackie Martinez and Kayla Herrar combined for 16 of those 18 fourth quarter points as they took a 53-47 victory.
It was a disappointing loss for the Hilltoppers, who led for the bulk of Friday’s contest. A win would’ve given the Hilltoppers sole possession of first place in the early going of the District 2-4A race and a whole heap of momentum for another very tough contest this week against Española Valley.
“We definitely had ourselves in this game the whole time,” Los Alamos head coach Ann Stewart said. “That was our goal and hopefully, we’d pull it out. At the end, I think fatigued set in. Maybe we were getting tight and nervous. Hopefully, as we play tighter games, we can withstand that.”
In the first half, things were going about as well as they could’ve for the Hilltoppers. They came back from an early opening deficit and took a lead with under a minute to go in the first quarter, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish until the midway point of the fourth quarter.
Los Alamos (11-9 overall, 1-1 in 2-4A) led by as many as 9 points late in the second quarter, although Santa Fe would cut that to 4 points by the break.
Hilltopper Erin Kirk, one of just three seniors on the team, posted her best game of the season. Kirk had five blocked shots in the first half, two coming against Santa Fe’s very talented freshman Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, and scored a season-best 19 points in the ballgame on 6 of 11 shooting from the field.
Kirk led a spirited Los Alamos defensive effort, which held Santa Fe to a 10-for-31 shooting performance in the first half. Santa Fe, which had been averaging better than 60 points a game this season, had just 24 points at the half.
Moreover, the Hilltopper defense shut out Lozada-Cabbage for the contest. Lozada-Cabbage, a 6-foot-2 sophomore who is the second-leading scorer on the team, barely ever found herself in a position to shoot. Her best chance came on a breakaway after her steal near the timeline, but she missed her uncontested layup on the other end badly.
She fouled out with 2:19 left in regulation, picking up her last two fouls less than 30 seconds apart.
The critical stretch of the game came earlier in the fourth quarter. Martinez tied the game at 41 with an old-fashioned 3-point play. Just over a minute later, Los Alamos lost the ball out of bounds and Santa Fe came right back with a bucket to take the lead.
Los Alamos coughed up the ball again on its next possession and Herrera converted on the other end of the floor.
Los Alamos struggled with turnovers in the first quarter, but had few issues with turnovers until the fourth quarter, when it lost the ball five times.
For the Hilltoppers, Alison Crane had 8 points coming off the bench and Shannon Doyle had four points and three offensive rebounds in limited action in the second quarter.
Martinez finished with 15 for Santa Fe, which, with its two wins over Española Valley and Los Alamos to start the district season, will likely finish the first half of 2-4A play 4-0 — neither Bernalillo nor Capital stands a realistic chance of toppling the Demons. Andrea Gonzales had 7 points coming off the bench Friday night.