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LA nipped by Pojoaque Valley Saturday night

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By Mike Cote

JACONA – Despite digging itself an early hole, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team was nearly able to dig itself all the way out on several occasions.

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Unfortunately, every time the Hilltoppers got close, the Pojoaque Valley Elkettes were able to make a mini-run and get some separation Saturday night.

Los Alamos trailed by as many as 12 points midway through the second quarter, but a 12-3 run got it back into the ballgame. Los Alamos cut the lead down to 1 point several times in the second half, but the Elkettes hung on to win 62-60 at Ben Lujan Gymnasium.

Early in the fourth quarter, Jordan Duran put in a bucket after her own offensive rebound, putting the Hilltoppers to within 45-44, but the Elkettes would put together a 10-2 run over the next 3:15, then hit some key free throws down the stretch to put the game away.

Pojoaque Valley veteran head coach Ron Drake, who made a scouting trip to Los Alamos earlier last week when the Hilltoppers played St. Michael’s, said he knew going in the Hilltoppers would have a better offensive performance than the 9-for-42 showing they had from the floor versus the Horsemen.

“McKenzie (Logan) was 1-for-15 that night,” Drake said. “She’s a lot better than that. We had to put Ody (Andujo), one of our best defenders, on her.”

Logan finished with a game-high 21 points, dropping in 10 of those in the second quarter as Los Alamos got back into the contest after its rough start.

Using good ball movement around the perimeter, Pojoaque Valley (2-0) got several good looks from the outside in the first quarter, including two 3-pointers and a rare 4-point play by guard Leslie Gutierrez. They led 20-9 after the first eight minutes.

The Elkettes, who beat up the Hilltoppers’ District 2-4A rival Capital in their opener, stretched their advantage to 27-15 in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Miranda Martinez, who herself would connect on a 4-point play in the fourth quarter.

But Logan turned in a gritty performance for the balance of the contest.

She dropped in three field goals in the second quarter, two of which were off her own steals in the backcourt.

Logan said the struggles early in the game were no reason for the Hilltoppers to panic.

“We needed to work out the kinks,” she said. “Starting out slow is not necessarily going to destroy the game. We fought back after the 20-9 start.”

One of the big points of emphasis for Los Alamos (0-2) heading in was finishing. Los Alamos couldn’t convert several good looks against St. Mike’s and lost that low-scoring contest 33-26 despite holding one of St. Mike’s big scorers, Alex Groenwald, to just six points.

Los Alamos did shoot a little better Saturday, hitting nearly 34 percent, still not where it wants to be but better than its 21.4 percent showing a game earlier.

Aiding the Hilltoppers’ offensive cause Saturday was their 15 offensive rebounds, six of those by their reserves.

It was a solid night for Los Alamos’ bench. Duran, who didn’t appear until late in the first quarter, had 8 points, and Makaela Jones, who converted a pair of pressure free throws in the fourth quarter, to finish with 4 points.
Forward Kiana Zerr had 13 points, her second double-figure outing of the season, and grabbed seven rebounds as well, five of them on the offensive end. Amber Logan had 8 points.

For Pojoaque Valley, Gabby Gonzales finished with 16 points and Gutierrez had 11.

McKenzie Logan said that defensive performance isn’t good enough.

“We need to focus more on working our defense in practice,” she said. “We had too many fouls and we put them at the free throw line too many times.”

Pojoaque Valley went to the foul line 37 times Saturday.