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ESPAÑOLA — If Thursday night’s District 2-4A girls basketball game had a theme song, it would’ve been “Stuck In the Middle With You.”
For the bulk of the final three quarters, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team’s ballhandlers were stuck trying to get through double-teams near the timeline as a result of a trapping press by the Española Valley Sundevils.
Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers didn’t respond well, turning the ball over 19 times after the first quarter, many of those turning into points on the other end for the Sundevils.
Española Valley, the No. 2 seed, won the 2-4A tournament semifinal contest 51-34 and now advance to play the Santa Fe Demons Saturday night for the district crown.
Los Alamos’ loss knocks it out of the district tournament. It must now wait until Sunday to see where it will land in the upcoming Class 4A playoffs.
The loss was a disappointing one for the Hilltoppers (16-12 overall, 6-4 in 2-4A), not only after defeating the Sundevils in their previous meeting Feb. 16 but after winning five of six games to close out the season heading in.
Española Valley, which has been known for most of the program’s existence for tough full-court pressure, used that pressure to good effect in the final three quarters.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart, who following Tuesday’s win over Capital alluded to the fact her team would see the press often against Española Valley, said her guards didn’t respond well.
“We didn’t take care of the ball,” she said. “We lost our patience and we lost our heads a little bit. We weren’t helping each other out.”
Early on Thursday, it looked like Los Alamos might breeze by Española Valley. Los Alamos dominated the first quarter, outscoring Española Valley 15-8, a quarter highlighted by Erin Kirk’s hoop-and-harm 3-point play on a nifty jump hook with about 20 seconds left.
Kirk, who has posted some of the best games of her career during district play this season, was one of two Hilltoppers to finish in double-figures, dropping in 10 points.
The strong performance in the first quarter didn’t carry into the second quarter, however, as the Sundevils (22-5, 7-2) switched tactics and pressured the Hilltoppers starting around three-quarters court.
Los Alamos, which turned the ball over only twice in the first 8 minutes, coughed it up 4 times in its first 6 possessions of the quarter as the Sundevils went on an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game. Los Alamos was held scoreless for more than 5:15 of the quarter until Anna Scott connected on a 16-foot jumper.
Defensively, Los Alamos did what it needed to against Española Valley’s top scoring threat, Lauren Quintana. Quintana, who is among the best slashing guards in 2-4A, got few opportunities to drive in the first three quarters — she finished with 13 points but 8 of those came in the fourth quarter with the game all but out of the Hilltoppers’ reach.
Doing the bulk of the damage for the Sundevils was their outstanding freshman Ashlynn Trujillo. Trujillo was 6 of 11 from the floor for a game-high 15 points.
For Los Alamos, Kiana Zerr had 10 points and Scott finished with 5.
Los Alamos, which shot under 30 percent during its regular season contest at Española Valley Jan. 30, went 12-for-35 from the floor Thursday (34.3 percent).