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SANTA FE — A big win by the Santa Fe Demons looked like a foregone conclusion midway through the fourth quarter against the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team.
But a late rally by the Hilltoppers put them back into the game. The Hilltoppers trimmed a 19-point lead by the Demons down to just 8 with under 3:30 remaining in the quarter.
Unfortunately, a late 10-1 surge by Santa Fe gave it the win in a critical District 2-4A contest Wednesday at Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
Spearheaded by a nearly unstoppable offensive performance from sophomore Kayla Herrera, the Demons rolled to a 74-57 victory.
Herrera, one of the most dynamic young players in Class 4A, rolled up a whopping 38 points against Los Alamos. Herrera, who misfired just twice in 11 attempts in the first half, sliced right through the middle of the lane virtually at-will Wednesday, setting herself up with numerous layup attempts.
On the rare occasion when Los Alamos was able to get a body on her, Herrera hit some very tough shots underneath the basket or pulled back and connected from mid-range.
Herrera’s point total was more than Los Alamos has allowed by seven teams this season and her first half total of 23 nearly equaled the total offensive output of the Hilltoppers, who had 26 points.
It was a disappointing loss for the Hilltoppers, who with a win would’ve had a chance to grab a share of the lead in the district race with Santa Fe and Española Valley, which they host Saturday night.
Instead, the Hilltoppers (13-11 overall, 3-3 in 2-4A) will probably have to be content with a third-place finish in district, assuming neither the Demons nor the Sundevils are upset in the final week of the regular season next week.
The Sundevils (20-4, 5-1) defeated Capital 54-38 Wednesday to keep pace with the Demons (21-2, 5-1). The two teams split their regular season meetings.
Santa Fe dominated most of the way Wednesday before Los Alamos’ comeback attempt in the fourth. Hilltopper reserve guard Alison Crane helped spark the rally, going to the foul line 8 times in the fourth quarter, converting on 6 of those attempts.
Crane and McKenzie Logan combined for 11 of Los Alamos’ 20 points in the period as the Hilltoppers cut into a seemingly insurmountable with time enough remaining to make the game into a 2-possession affair.
Unfortunately, Los Alamos couldn’t take advantage of some other opportunities that presented themselves in the fourth quarter, a key play being a traveling call on a breakaway opportunity by Los Alamos which would’ve gotten the Santa Fe lead down to 7 points.
“We kept fighting. The girls never gave up,” Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart said. “But our defense killed us tonight. The things we’d worked on in practice weren’t there. That hurt us. And when a kid goes off for 38 points, that hurts. It didn’t seem like any adjustments we made were effective.”
Los Alamos did a solid job on the other two big Santa Fe threats, Jackie Martinez and Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage. They combined for just 11 points Wednesday. Lozada-Cabbage, who has been outstanding in virtually every other game she’s played in this year, managed just 6 points in the two games against the Hilltoppers — Los Alamos shut her out, possibly for the only time in her career, in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 25.
Erin Kirk, one of the top defensive players in 2-4A, kept Lozada-Cabbage largely in check when she was assigned to the 6-foot center.
But Los Alamos could barely slow Herrera down. When Los Alamos’ defense did manage to do so, forward Andrea Gonzales knocked down some key jumpers that hurt the Hilltoppers down the stretch.
Gonzales finished with 10 points and Nikki Garcia added 9 for the Demons.
Los Alamos was paced by Logan’s 13 points, 7 of those coming in the second quarter, and added 5 steals. Anna Scott, who had a pair of 3-pointers on the night, had 10 points and Kirk and Amber Logan added 9.
Kirk also added 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.