LA tripped up by Los Lunas in The Pit

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE – A barrage of 3-pointers in the second quarter put the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team in a deficit going into the break Tuesday afternoon.
Despite a couple of pushes in the second half, the Hilltoppers weren’t able to sustain enough offense to make their opponents, the Los Lunas Tigers, really sweat.
Los Lunas, the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A tournament, bounced Los Alamos in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round at The Pit, winning 57-44.
Despite the loss in the one and only game of her career in The Pit, Los Alamos senior Erin Kirk said she wasn’t terribly disappointed with the outcome because of how far the Hilltoppers had gotten.
“Looking back on our season, we shouldn’t have been in the top 9 at all,” said Kirk, a three-year starter for Los Alamos. “With the tightness of this team, with us trusting each other, that’s what it took for us to get here.”
Los Alamos’ stated goal since head coach Ann Stewart took over the program in January was to get to the quarterfinal round and the team was able to do just that this season, the first time the Hilltoppers had advanced beyond the opening playoff round since 2009-10.
Heading in, the Hilltoppers had the unenviable task of taking on the Tigers, who were ranked at or near the top of state polls for most of the year.
The Tigers, who sport one of the top players in the state regardless of classification, center Teige Zeller, got good production out of her the entire ballgame.
The difference, however, would be Los Lunas’ perimeter shooting in the second quarter.
The two teams played even in the first quarter, but early in the second quarter, Tiger shooting guard Tinaya Murphy caught fire. Murphy connected on 3 3-pointers in the quarter, while teammates Nicole Hathoot and Elise Tapia also joined in from outside.
One of the big blows in the game was Murphy’s third 3-pointer of the quarter, that coming on a fast break opportunity by the Tigers.
 She hit the 3-poinert less than :30 after her second 3 of the quarter. Those two shots put the Tigers up 28-17.
“It feels different because when I know I’m not thinking about them, I’m going to drain them,” Murphy said.
Los Alamos was limited to just 4 points for nearly 7 minutes in the quarter, all of those coming from guard McKenzie Logan, before Kirk and Alison Crane connected at the foul line.
Los Lunas (24-6) maintained a double-digit edge throughout the third quarter but Los Alamos’ defense stiffened, giving up just 11 points to keep within striking distance.
Kirk, who finished with 10 points in the game, had back-to-back buckets late in the fourth quarter, the second trimmed the Los Lunas advantage to 7 points. Logan, who had 9 points for Los Alamos, hit a 3-pointer with just under a minute left to make the score 52-44, but that would be all the late offense the Hilltoppers could muster.
“We knew going in we would have to play a full game,” Stewart said. “We couldn’t have a quarter with any kind of a letdown. In that second quarter, we weren’t getting looks. They were hot, we weren’t. They killed us on the boards.”
Zeller, a 6-foot-2 junior who has given Los Alamos all kinds of trouble in the past, particularly in two years at Grants before moving to Los Lunas, dropped in 26 points for Los Lunas, which takes on St. Pius X in the 4A semifinals Thursday.
Zeller connected on 12 of 16 from the floor and grabbed 17 rebounds.
Afterward, Zeller said she liked her team’s chances of picking up the 4A title in this tournament.
“I think we’re doing really well,” Zeller said. “The main thing is everyone on the team knowing what they want. No matter how well we play, we’re still working hard. We have that desire to be where we want to be.”
Kiana Zerr had 8 points and 5 rebounds for Los Alamos, which ends its year with a mark of 17-13. Anna Scott added 7 points and point guard Amber Logan led the team with 7 rebounds.
“One of our goals was to get to The Pit,” Zerr said. “After some of our players leaving, with us getting a new coach, we kept pushing. We worked hard in practice.”