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Prep boys basketball: Toppers get big win at Belen

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By Jose Corral

This time Los Alamos didn’t shy away in the fourth quarter.

Down 44-34 entering the final quarter, Los Alamos hit crucial shots and made defensive stops to pick up a big 52-49 win at Belen on Friday night. 

“That was probably as patient as we’ve been all year,” Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. “Usually when we get down six or eight points, we try to win it with our next shot. Tonight, they were really patient, got really good shots and even got three 3’s in a row in one stretch. We didn’t panic so much when we got behind.”

The Hilltoppers had every excuse to panic being down by 10 with eight minutes remaining. But instead, Los Alamos executed on offense, including back-to-back 3’s from Ramon Roybal and Jack Stewart that cut Belen’s lead to 46-42 with 6:20 left in the game.

A contested jumper from Anthony Trujillo gave Los Alamos its first lead of the second half, 48-47 with 1:25 remaining. After Trujillo’s go ahead jumper, the Hilltoppers managed to keep the Eagles from getting good looks and with 30 seconds left, Cade Gasway rejected a Belen attempt to tie it. The Eagles got a decent look from 3-point range but the shot was off the mark.

“Things started going in our favor and low and behold, we were ahead,” Kluk said. “I was very proud of them for being patient and determined. That’s the first time this year that I’ve really seen that.”

After going into halftime with a 26-17 lead, Belen started the second half on a 5-0 run, before both teams traded a pair of 3-pointers each.

Defensively, Los Alamos was keying in on limiting Belen’s 3-point shooting. But, the Eagles still managed to knock down shots from the perimeter throughout the game against the Hilltoppers zone defense. However, Los Alamos did capitalize on its size advantage.

“We had to really work on our zones to stretch them out,” Kluk said. “In the fourth quarter we were able to get out there quicker and made them shoot some off-balanced shots. We got the right group out there and things just started working.”

This was Los Alamos’ second meeting against the Eagles. In the first meeting in the Poe Corn tournament in Roswell, the teams entered the fourth quarter tied, until Belen outscored Los Alamos by 11 in the final eight minutes. On Friday, the Hilltoppers prevailed against Belen’s 3-point shooting and earned a key Class 5A victory.  

“It’s still early right now,” Kluk said. “(Belen) is on a little streak where they’re not winning. If that continues, this win won’t be as big. But for us to come to Belen and win, is huge for us.”

The Hilltoppers, who improved to 7-6 overall, will have a quick turnaround and host Santa Fe High at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“You got a hope that this something to build on,” Kluk said. “Our guys have seen and this is the way we want to play. We knew we would be better coming out of the Roswell tournament so let’s keep it going.”