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In few sports were the Bernalillo Spartans considered much of a District 2AAAA title contender, but in 2010’s contests against the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, they may as well have been.
The Spartans seemed to get up for every game this year against the Hilltoppers, giving them everything they could handle on plenty of occasions. Games involving the Hilltoppers and Spartans appear three times among the Los Alamos Monitor’s top 10 contests of 2010.
As is usually the case, the Hilltoppers in 2010 liked to keep their fans riveted. Here are some of the games that more than fit that bill.
Of course, every Los Alamos fan could make up his or her own list and perhaps none of these contests would make the cut.
Events were picked based on competitiveness, postseason implications and, most importantly, the “gasp” factor. Only events at which a Monitor representative was present were considered.
Here are the Monitor’s best contests of 2010:
10. Softball, Bernalillo at Los Alamos, April 7
The Spartans, Hilltoppers and Española Valley Sundevils were poised to duke it out for the District 2AAAA title this season, but the Hilltoppers’ impressive run through their district schedule would eventually put things away handily.
That’s not to say the Spartans were conceding anything, particularly in this game that would plant the winner in the district driver’s seat early on. Even after the Hilltoppers took a sizeable lead, the Spartans were hardly raising the white flag.
Los Alamos pushed five runs across in the third – Sam D’Anna’s bases-clearing double being the big blow – and four more in the fifth – Micaela Christensen crushed a three-run shot – to take a 9-4 lead, but Bernalillo came right back in the top of the sixth, scoring three runs, including a two-run homer by Marisa Valencia, off pitcher Monika Teter.
Teter and the Hilltoppers would ultimately hold on to win 10-7. Los Alamos’ ace fanned 12 batters and scattered seven hits over seven innings.
9. Football, Santa Fe at Los Alamos, Oct. 15
It was a battle between two teams needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. While, ultimately, neither would advance to the postseason, this game would go down as the signature game of 2010 for the Hilltoppers.
Two weeks earlier, Los Alamos dropped a heartbreaker to Bernalillo, 24-21, a game in which both teams blew critical chances. For Los Alamos to stay afloat, it would need a win over Santa Fe.
Los Alamos scored 19 unanswered points to win that contest 19-14.
Arnoldo Ortiz, a sophomore, rushed for 97 yards and senior quarterback Kory Balog toted the ball 21 times for 92 yards. The big rush of the game, however, was Mike Sanchez’s 68-yard touchdown scamper with 2:10 remaining to give the Hilltoppers their first and only lead of the game.
For Santa Fe, quarterback Jason Fitzpatrick, who was 11 for 15 passing in the first half, very nearly engineered a comeback drive with less than a minute remaining, but his brother, Ryan, couldn’t hang onto a perfectly-thrown ball at the goal line.
8. Girls basketball, St. Pius X at Los Alamos, Jan. 25
This game, delayed from two weeks earlier due to a power outage in Los Alamos, was worth the wait.
The Sartans and the Hilltoppers would meet three times during the 2009-10 regular season, with the Hilltoppers ultimately getting the last laugh in the playoffs. But in this contest, one of the top coaches in the state brought his ‘A’ game and guided his team to an improbable comeback.
Phil Griego, veteran coach at St. Pius, threw token full-court pressure at Los Alamos in the first half of this ballgame, which Los Alamos broke without a sweat.
Against St. Pius’ early pressure, Los Alamos built up an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
But at that point, Griego went all-in with a full-court trap and his gamble paid off. St. Pius erased the deficit over a 2-1/2 minute stretch as the Sartans came back to win 40-37.
Taylor Ealey and Feliz Pacheco hit big buckets in the fourth quarter to seemingly send the Sartans reeling, but Sartan Elisha Levingston forced three Hilltopper turnovers in the second half to spark the comeback.
7. Cross country, Class 4A state meet, Nov. 6
A tough race on a tough course would be the icing on the cake for the Hilltopper girls in their quest to become the undisputed heavyweight champions of the state. Meanwhile the Hilltopper boys’ attempt to pull off another shocking upset victory would come closer than some might have guessed going in.
Los Alamos’ girls, starting two runners with limited varsity experience in their first state title meet, got top-shelf performances out of both. Anna Wermer and Eliana Riciputi both cracked the top 10 individually in the state title race, which sealed Los Alamos’ record 15th state title.
Los Alamos controlled the race much of the way, keeping with its tried-and-true strategy of packing together and pushing the pace the entire way.
In the boys’ race, Los Alamos had, at best, an outside shot of pulling off an upset, as it had in both 2003 and 2007, but then nationally ranked Albuquerque Academy Chargers proved to be too much. Academy held on for a 37-59 victory, despite the best efforts of senior Daniel Roybal, who placed seventh in the meet.
6. Baseball, Bernalillo at Los Alamos, April 7
While in White Rock the Spartans and Hilltoppers were playing a fantastic softball game, the Spartans and Hilltoppers were having a classic of their own at Bomber Field.
Down to its last out of the ballgame and trailing Bernalillo 8-6, Los Alamos center fielder Ryan Schleft roped a double down the left field line, driving in three runs and giving the Hilltoppers a 9-8 walk-off victory in a crucial District 2AAAA match-up.
Bernalillo looked to be well in control of the game early on, scoring five runs in the top of the third to knock out starting pitcher Austin Aslin. But Lukas Coker, who has bailed Los Alamos out of tough spots before, held Bernalillo to just one run over the next four innings to give his team a chance to battle back.
The Hilltoppers, thanks in no small part to the momentum picked up in this ballgame, would go on to clinch their second straight district title.
5. Track and field, Class 4A state meet, May 7-8
Things didn’t start off as well as planned, but finished off exactly the way the Hilltoppers had hoped they would.
Los Alamos got off to a slow start in the two-day state title meet, in which it was attempting a repeat of one of the most dominant performances in 4A history. Chase Ealey, who broke the school’s shot put mark early in the season and was a heavy favorite to win, was upset in the event by Kirtland Central’s Melanie Heslop, and the 800 meter relay team, another serious title contender, limped to a fifth-place finish.
But Los Alamos’ girls, by far the deepest team in the field, grabbed several big wins, including 1-2 finishes in both the javeline and high jump, and wins by Ealey and Emily Weeks in the 100 meters and long jump, to reclaim their title.
On the boys’ side, Los Alamos finished a better-than-expected fourth in team standings. Oliver Funsten threw a whopping 162 feet, 2 inches to take the discus title and standout distance runner Kyle Pittman won the 3,200 meters and came back from a huge deficit to lead the team to a 1,600 medley relay victory.
4. Girls basketball, Española Valley at Los Alamos, Feb. 16
To keep its hopes alive in it quest to regain the District 2AAAA race, Los Alamos knew it would have to knock off its arch-rival Española Valley, which had had its number for much of the previous two seasons.
Española Valley would eventually win a tiebreaker and ultimately pick up the district regular season and tournament crowns, but this night belonged to Los Alamos.
The Hilltoppers struggled through three quarters of the ballgame and were down eight in the fourth quarter, before instituting a 2-1-2 defense, something they had not show much of up to that point in the season, and slowed down the Sundevils’ dangerous guard Nisa Duran, who scored 17 points through three quarters.
In the fourth, Shelby Courtright and Tyree Richins combined for 12 points while Richins hit all six of her foul shots in the fourth quarter as the Hilltoppers came back to win 52-48.
3. Volleyball, Bernalillo at Los Alamos, Sept. 29
Hilltopper head coach Garry Maskaly seemed to know something no one else did about the Bernalillo Spartans.
Heading into their District 2AAAA opener, the Hilltoppers were very wary of the Spartans, who had muddled at or near the district basement for several seasons. Maskaly said he felt the Spartans were much improved and taking them lightly could be disastrous.
Los Alamos didn’t take Bernalillo lightly and were fortunate to escape with a victory. Bernalillo earned wins in sets one and three and had Los Alamos’ back to the wall before it cranked up its potent front line.
The Hilltoppers needed every bit of a career night from outside hitter Sabrina Little. Little finished the match with 29 spike kills – no known school record for kills in a match exists but Little’s performance was certainly among the best ever turned in.
Meanwhile, setter Savanah Romero finished with 24 points off serves in the contest, helping to negate a big night by Chelsea Darnell.
Los Alamos would win the district and put together an impressive 15-match win streak in 2010.
2. Boys basketball, Los Alamos at Española Valley, Feb. 16
It was a testament to the Hilltoppers how they were able to outplay the Española Valley Sundevils most of this night and a testament to the Sundevils how they were able to bounce back in short bursts and put the Hilltoppers back on their heels.
Española Valley, the No. 2 team in the state for most of the 2009-10 season, didn’t have its best game of the season when it hosted Los Alamos, but made plays when it needed to in taking a 74-71 decision and end the Hilltoppers’ chances of grabbing a piece of the district title.
Despite a career-high 44-point effort from Alex Kirk, hitting 20 of 20 free throws along the way, a great effort through 1-1/2 quarters was wiped out in just a four minute stretch by Española Valley. Los Alamos led by 13 points late in the first half but Española Valley went on a 19-5 run in just four minutes, spearheaded by guard Rodney Coles.
On the flip side, the Sundevils nearly squandered a seven-point lead with less than a minute remaining.
1. Boys soccer, Capital at Los Alamos, Oct. 2
One could pick any number of games from the Hilltoppers’ season, but this contest could well have been the jumping-off point for what would be a historic finish.
The Hilltoppers, who rarely missed an opportunity for a dramatic finish in 2010, seemed to save their best drama for when they were up 2-0. This game would be no exception.
Los Alamos scored two goals in less than 10 minutes with David Wyman and Graham Delano scored quickly to put Capital seemingly on the ropes. But Los Alamos couldn’t convert on numerous other opportunities in the first half and the score remained 2-0 at the break.
In the second half, Capital put together a good run on a long through-ball chance to halve the Hilltoppers’ lead. For the next 10 minutes, Capital kept heavy pressure on the Los Alamos back line, but goalkeeper Lorezno Venneri, who just returned that day after suffering a broken nose, was up to the challenge.
Of course, the Hilltoppers went on to sweep the two-game set with the Jaguars, upend Albuquerque Academy, St. Pius X and Belen in three days and grab their first state title since 1986.