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ESPAÑOLA — With under three minutes remaining, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team had a chance to pull off the upset of the season so far against its arch-rivals.
But a pair of quick turnovers that translated into buckets and some missed chances on the offensive end would cost the Hilltoppers that opportunity.
Los Alamos led 39-36, but Española Valley’s Jared Garduño forced a turnover under the Sundevils’ basket, then was the beneficiary of another turnover forced by his teammates to give his team the lead.
Garduño also dropped in 6 of 6 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter as the Sundevils came from behind to win 47-43 at Edward Medina Gymnasium.
It was a disappointing loss, not just for the fact Los Alamos (1-19 overall, 0-3 in 2-4A) had a shot to upend Española Valley, but how it lost.
The Hilltoppers couldn’t covert a pair of open looks under the basket in the final four minutes of the game, then misfired on a pair of free throws that very likely would’ve made a difference late.
And, with just over 10 seconds left and the Sundevils up by two, the Hilltoppers failed to inbound the ball on the Española Valley’s baseline, getting tagged instead with a 5-second violation that all but ended their upset bid.
It was frustrating for Hilltopper head coach Mike Kluk.
“We get those, it would’ve been a completely different approach to what we were doing and what they were doing,” he said. “When you play ahead or play behind, it’s a completely different thought pattern.”
The Sundevils (11-9 overall, 3-0 in 2-4A) have been involved in two straight close calls at home. They held off a late charge by the Capital Jaguars Saturday night, winning that game 60-58, although by most accounts the game wasn’t quite that close.
It was also the second straight close call for the Hilltoppers, who are looking to get something positive going prior to the district tournament next month. The Hilltoppers hung around with Santa Fe Saturday, but were hampered by missed shots from close range, as well as some suspect officiating in the second half which slowed their momentum.
Sundevil veteran coach Richard Martinez, who led them to a state title in 2011, said his team dodged a bulled Tuesday night.
“If you lose that many games, you can lose focus, but they haven’t done that,” Martinez said. “Right now, Los Alamos is a very dangerous team in this district. They’re going to give you everything you can handle.”
Los Alamos trailed 27-20 at the break, but held Española Valley to just four points in the third quarter. Seth Drop had 9 points in the third quarter, including a tough jumper at the buzzer, to give Los Alamos a 3-point edge.
The Sundevils reclaimed the lead early in the fourth quarter, but consecutive conversions by Franklin Archuleta — who led the Hilltoppers with 14 points — and William Steinkamp, pushed the Los Alamos advantage back up to three.
Los Alamos had a chance to put some more distance between it and Española Valley, but would only connect on two more buckets in the final 5:07.
Drop finished with 11 points.
Española Valley had a balanced scoring night. Garduño paced the Sundevils with 12, 8 of those in the final quarter.
While Los Alamos is still trying to figure out a way to win some of these close contests, it can take some solace in the fact that the district race is far from over. Bernalillo, which topped Los Alamos last week in the teams’ district opener, fell to Capital 52-41 in Bernalillo, keeping second place in the 2-4A race open for the taking.