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ALBUQUERQUE – For most of the first half, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team looked like it might finally turn its fortunes around against the Española Valley Sundevils.
However, a couple of turnovers late in the first half put the Sundevils right back into Tuesday’s ballgame. With the momentum on their side the Sundevils went on some impressive second half scoring runs, but none more impressive than their 11-2 run to end the game and end the Hilltoppers’ season.
Los Alamos fell in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round of the state Class AAAA girls basketball tournament to Española Valley, 51-41 at University Arena.
It was a tough loss for the Hilltoppers, who controlled the first half until the final two minutes, in which three turnovers led to three quick Sundevil baskets to turn the game’s tide.
“They go on little spurts and we had to fight back,” Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said following Tuesday afternoon’s loss. “We fought back every time, there just wasn’t time to fight back the last time.”
The win for Española Valley put them into the state AAAA semifinals, the first time in nearly a decade Española Valley has advanced that far. Española Valley will play the mighty Kirtland Central Broncos, the winningest program in state girls basketball championship tournament history, Thursday at The Pit.
For the Hilltoppers, they ended their 2009-10 season, their second under Logan’s tutelage, with a record of 20-11. During this season, they went 1-4 against the Sundevils, who also played Los Alamos five times during their 2000-01 season in which they advanced to the state semifinals.
The Hilltoppers finished second to to the Sundevils in both the District 2AAAA regular season and district tournament. The Hilltoppers’ only win against the Sundevils came at Griffith Gymnasium Feb. 16.
In all four of their wins, Española Valley managed to put together good scoring runs to help secure the victories. Tuesday was no exception.
Española Valley (26-4) closed out the first half on a 8-0 run covering 2:33 and reeled off 9 straight points to close out the fourth quarter, a streak that wasn’t snapped until only 10 seconds remained in regulation.
Tuesday’s game could hardly have started off better for the Hilltoppers, who went up 11-3 at one point in the opening quarter behind the strength of a hot-shooting Taylor Ealey.
Ealey, Los Alamos’ star forward who was battling through right knee trouble before and during the contest, finally had to take a seat for good at the midway point of the fourth quarter after aggravating the knee on a play away from the ball.
It was the final game in Ealey’s prep career and she made it count. She finished with a game-high 18 points, hitting 7 of 17 shots from the floor.
Ealey started off the game connecting on a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter and another pair in the second quarter. She finished the first half scoring 16 of Los Alamos’ 21 points.
Unfortunately, the Hilltoppers would never get enough sustained offense outside of Ealey, who due to the knee was slowed up in the second half. Ealey had all of Los Alamos’ first half field goals and had only a handful of good scoring opportunities beyond that.
Early in Tuesday’s second half, Española Valley hit some long-range shots, shots that were notably absent in the first half.
Sundevil seniors Nisa Duran and Melanie Vigil both connected from 3-point range early in the third quarter. Down low, they got some good assistance from Sundevil freshman Lauren Quintana, who put in 5 of her 11 points in the quarter, turning in one of the best games of her young career.
Española Valley veteran head coach Ron Drake, who owns a state championship ring from his days at Santa Fe High School, said his team is primed to make a deep playoff run.
“I’m so happy being here,” Drake said. “But I told the team they can’t be satisfied just being here.”
Duran, who along with Ealey finished as the co-District 2AAAA Player of the Year, finished with 17 points to lead her team.
For Los Alamos, forward Shelby Courtright finished with 7 points and 12 rebounds.
Los Alamos’ biggest offensive surge, however, was led by sophomore Chase Ealey, who provided the spark in the fourth quarter as Los Alamos tried to battle back from an 8-point deficit.
Ealey scored all 7 of her points in the final quarter from her post position, 6 of those coming straigh off her 4 offensive rebounds.
With 3:56 remaining, Ealey’s third putback of the quarter cut the lead down to 40-39.
However, it wouldn’t be enough, with Duran scoring twice late to put the score back up to double-digits.
Logan said she admired the effort of her team and her opponent.
The tournament continues through Friday in Albuquerque.