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ESPAÑOLA – The second meeting between the Los Alamos Hilltoppers and the Española Valley Sundevils played out very much like their first meeting did.
And, unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, the result was the same as well.
Los Alamos advanced to the District 2-4A girls basketball semifinals to take on the Sundevils and, for the third time in as many go-rounds, the Sundevils prevailed.
Española Valley jumped out to a big early lead, going up by as many as 13 points in the first half, then survived a second half comeback attempt by Los Alamos to prevail 61-48 Thursday at Edward Medina Gymnasium.
The loss knocks the Hilltoppers out of the district tournament. They now must wait until Sunday evening to see if they’ve done enough to qualify for the state tournament.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart believes her team will get into the playoffs, but probably on the lower end of the bracket.
“Based on our record, we’re probably going to get a 14 seed,” she said.
The Sundevils, who have a very young team and a new coach this season, their third coach in as many years, were a big question mark in Class 4A, but have put together a remarkable year, winning for the 21st time Thursday night, and have given themselves one more crack at earning a 2-4A title that seemed from day one to be Santa Fe’s for the taking.
But with a solid win over the Hilltoppers, the Sundevils will get their second shot of the week to wrest that title away.
In their first meeting in the valley Jan. 29, the Sundevils jumped out to a 20-point edge in the first half. The Hilltoppers made a game of it in the second half, but the Sundevils would ultimately prevail 57-48.
Los Alamos went into Thursday’s game with the idea of holding down Española Valley’s two big offensive guns, Ashlynn Trujillo and Alexis Lovato.
And that strategy worked very effectively in the first half.
Neither Trujillo, who was matched-up on the offensive end by Alison Crane, nor Lovato score a single point in the first half.
Trujillo, who usually has a high percentage of the offense run directly through her, barely touched the ball through about a quarter and half, and when she did, Crane was all over her.
Despite the good defensive effort, the Sundevils still managed to find ways to score. Kayla Salazar and Leah De Aguero combined for four 3-pointers in the first half and Kaitlin Romero hit four mid-range jumpers as the Sundevils took a 30-18 advantage into the break.
The Hilltoppers shot poorly from the floor in the first two quarters, going just 4-for-21 (19 percent), although they went to the free throw line 15 times and made 10 of those.
Stewart said the Hilltoppers (13-15) wanted to stay aggressive on the offensive end and force Española Valley to foul. Española Valley obliged, racking up 24 team fouls in the game.
In the third quarter, with Los Alamos trailing 35-22, with about three minutes remaining, Los Alamos rallied to within five points. Krista Salazar connected on a drive to the bucket and, on the ensuing throw in, Los Alamos forced a turnover.
Sundevil head coach Ray Romero to jump off the bench screaming in protest that one of his offensive players was held — which did appear to be the case.
Romero was immediately slapped with a technical foul and Los Alamos guard Amber Logan, who had a huge game Tuesday against Bernalillo, dropped in both free throws and Marissa Larribas, who had one of the biggest nights of her career Thursday, scored on a putback following the technical foul free throws.
“The girls weren’t going to quit,” Stewart said of the third quarter rally. “We spotted them 10 points in the first half, but after that it was pretty even. The girls decided they wanted to fight and they wanted to extend their season.
The Hilltoppers cut the Sundevil edge to just 38-33 with 1:25 left in the quarter, but the Sundevils hit two big buckets, including an old-fashioned 3-point play by Trujillo — her first field goal of the game — to put their advantage back into double-digits.
Kaitlin Romero finished with 15 points and Salazar added 14 points to pace the Sundevils, who shot just under 50 percent for the game.
Los Alamos improved its shooting a little bit in the second half, but still managed just a 28.2 percent performance for the contest.
Larribas had a game-high 17 points. She hit 4 of 6 from the field and was 9 of 11 at the foul line, completing a 3-point play in the second quarter.
Hilltopper forward Kiana Zerr added 15 points, connecting on 9 of 10 chances from the stripe.