LA gets thumped in opening round by Highland

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — It was a decisive victory by the Highland Hornets, to say the least.
Highland, one of the granddaddy schools in Albuquerque, made light work of the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team Thursday.
Los Alamos, playing in the first round of the Joe Armijo Invitational, knew it was going to be an uphill battle against Highland. Highland did not disappoint.
Using tenacious defensive pressure in both full- and half-court sets, the Hornets didn’t give the Hilltoppers much breathing room on their possessions. Forcing 13 first half turnovers, the Hornets grabbed a big early edge and never let the Hilltoppers into the ballgame, winning 61-20 at Albuquerque Academy’s East Gymnasium.
The Armijo Invitational could well be the marquee tournament of the entire season. With heavyweights such as La Cueva, Hope Christian, Española Valley and Denver Mullen in the mix, the team coming away with the tournament title will have more than earned it.
But Highland more than made its presence felt Thursday.
The Hornets (4-2) jumped out to a 25-5 advantage early in the second quarter and never looked back.
Highland had an exemplary performance in all phases of the game. On the offensive end, it was able to work the ball around the perimeter until a gap opened up in the Hilltopper defense. On the other side of the court, Highland clogged up the lane well all night — the Hornets aren’t any taller than the Hilltoppers — and contested what few looks from the perimeter the Hilltoppers (1-5) were able to get.
As for Los Alamos, its defense, which held three straight opponents to under 50 points heading into Thursday’s game, actually played fairly well throughout the contest. Highland finished the game shooting 21 of 49 from the floor (42.9 percent), but Los Alamos shot 9 of 29 (31.0 percent) itself.
Thomas Russell, who was in foul trouble most of the night — he picked up his third foul early in the second quarter — had nine points to lead the Hilltoppers. Other than Russell, the only other Hilltopper to convert more than one basket was Nathan Carver.
The Hilltoppers entered Thursday’s contest after picking up their first win of the season. The Hilltoppers topped Belen 35-29 to open up an 11-game road trip which extends through the first week of January.
Highland, meanwhile, only put two players in double-figures Thursday. Peter Zanes had 13 points — he opened up the third quarter with a pair of 3-pointers that effectively quashed any hope of a Los Alamos comeback — and Darrell Lampkin finished with 11. However, 13 Hornets got into the scoring column.
Los Alamos fell into the consolation bracket of the tournament and was scheduled to play Rio Rancho this afternoon.
Results of that contest weren’t available as of press time.