LA pulls away in 4th quarter to top Capital, 57-33

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By Mike Cote

At this time of the season, a win is a win.
However, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team knows to advance farther into the District 2-4A tournament it will have to play a lot cleaner than it did Tuesday night.
Los Alamos had an excellent first quarter, except for its shooting, then struggled with turnovers in the second quarter as the Capital Jaguars clawed their way back into the game as the Hilltoppers were trying to shut the door.
It was only after a big push at the beginning of the fourth quarter that Los Alamos finally finished off Capital. Los Alamos prevailed 57-33 at Griffith Gymnasium.
Tuesday’s game was the quarterfinal matchup of the 2-4A tournament. With the win, Los Alamos now advances to the semifinal round.
That game won’t be easy, however, as the Hilltoppers will face the Española Valley Sundevils Thursday night in Española.
“We’re going to have to do all the little things right. The things we did here,” said Hilltopper center Erin Kirk, talking about Los Alamos’ 48-42 win Feb. 16 at Griffith Gym.
Specifically, Los Alamos won’t be able to afford a stretch where it turns over the ball on several straight trips down the floor against Española Valley, the way it did in the second quarter against Capital.
Los Alamos (16-11 overall, 6-3 in district) held Capital to just 3 points in 10 minutes of play, but would then cough up the ball three out of its next four possessions. Capital converted those chances on the other end, going on an 11-3 run over the next 3:53 of the period to chop the Los Alamos advantage to just 17-14.
The Jaguars (7-22, 2-8) wouldn’t be able to sustain their momentum, however.
For the remaining 2:23 of the period, Los Alamos got the ball down low and get to the free throw line, converting those to move its edge back to 10 points by the half.
Capital head coach Tom Montoya inexplicably left his star player, center Ashley Sorenson, in the game after picking up her third foul early in the frame. Sorenson had two blocks in the first half but wasn’t much of a factor on the offensive end.
Sorenson, who didn’t back down from her aggressive defense even the slightest after earning her third foul, was tagged with a fourth foul with 15.7 seconds remaining in the half. To her credit, Sorenson – who posted a triple-double Monday night in Capital’s win over Bernalillo – managed to stay in for the entire second half without picking up her fifth foul.
Sorenson is the focal point of Capital’s offense, something Los Alamos knew well coming in. Los Alamos head coach Ann Stewart said the team was well aware Capital would try to get the ball down low to the 6-foot, 3-inch Sorenson as much as possible and her defense would be ready for it.
She finished with 16 points in the contest, 7 of those coming in the third quarter as the Jaguars tried to keep pace with the Hilltoppers, but would only have sporadic success for the rest of the game.
“We’ve played them four times,” said Kirk, who, along with forward Kiana Zerr was charged with keeping an eye on Sorenson. “We know their game and they know our game. We just had to focus on what we had to do.”
Los Alamos beat Capital in all four of their meetings, with all four of those games having similar final scores.
Kirk paced the Hilltoppers Tuesday night, dropping in a game-high 17 points. She had 8 points in the final quarter, sparking Los Alamos’ push to break the game open.
Neither team shot well, although the Hilltoppers improved their performance considerably in the second half. The two teams combined to connect on just 9 of 46 attempts from the field in the first half (19.6 percent).
The 5 turnovers in the second quarter didn’t sit well with Stewart, particularly going up against Española Valley, which thrives on quick steals and transition points.
“We weren’t taking care of the ball,” Stewart said. “We lost our heads a little bit, but we relaxed and got back into it. We were not forcing things as much.”
Hilltopper guard McKenzie Logan had a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing at team-high 11 rebounds.
It was another big night for Logan, who also picked up 5 steals and was credited with 4 assists. Logan stepped up her game since the start of district play and has been among Los Alamos’ most consistent performers since mid-January.
Guard Alison Crane had 10 points coming off the bench for Los Alamos. Down low, Zerr finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds.