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BERNALILLO — Setting itself up with chances wasn’t the problem for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team Monday night.
Finishing was another story.
Los Alamos fell on the road at Bernalillo in the District 2-4A tournament, a loss which ended the Hilltoppers’ 2013-14 season.
Los Alamos was within striking distance at the end of the first half, but went cold in the third quarter, falling in that contest 59-50.
Bernalillo will now move on to play the Santa Fe Demons in the quarterfinal round of the 2-4A tournament. That game is set for tonight.
Los Alamos, which had high hopes to turn its season around in district play, never got on track. It went 1-8 in district despite facing teams that have, like itself, struggled to find consistency night in and night out.
The Hilltoppers were limited to just three points for the bulk of the third quarter after chopping a 9-point Spartan lead down to just two by the break. The Spartans took advantage, opening up an 8-point cushion heading into the final quarter.
“This was a lot like the first time we played down here,” said Los Alamos head coach Mike Kluk. “We got to within four points, but we just couldn’t get closer. That was partially due to our own mistakes.”
There were some backbreaking plays for the Hilltoppers Monday, but perhaps the biggest factor was their struggles from the foul line. The Hilltoppers connected on just 8-for-19 chances from the stripe, going just 1-for-4 in the third quarter and missing two front-ends of key 1-and-1 chances in the fourth.
One of Los Alamos’ two victories this season came over Bernalillo in the seventh-place game of Albuquerque Academy’s tournament in mid-December, but Bernalillo swept Los Alamos during 2-4A play, including thumping the Hilltoppers 63-42 in Los Alamos earlier this month.
Keying the two regular season victories for the Spartans (12-15 overall, 4-4 in 2-4A) was shooting guard Carl Herrera. Kluk said the team knew going into Monday’s contest it had to slow down Herrera, who torched Los Alamos from long-range, finishing with 27 points Feb. 8.
Los Alamos’ plans didn’t come to fruition in the first half, as Herrera dropped in 17 points before the break, more than half the Spartans’ total. Herrera led four impressive fast breaks as the Spartans controlled the boards for much of the opening half.
He would cool down in the second half, scoring just three more buckets, to finish with 23, which was still good enough to lead all scorers.
Also for Bernalillo, forward Santiago Dominguez had 13 points and guard David Romero finished with 11.
Hilltopper Franklin Archuleta had 14 points to lead Los Alamos. He had 8 points in the second quarter as Los Alamos whittled into Bernalillo’s lead.
Seth Drop also had a big second quarter for the Hilltoppers (2-24) with a pair of nice drives to the bucket on hesitation moves from the top of the key. Drop finished with 8 points and Scott Gasway had 9 points, 7 in the first half.
It was a strange year, to say the least, for the Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers suffered their second straight season of winning two games or less — it managed just a lone victory in 2012-13.
Then, in January, Hilltopper third-year head coach Fil Dominguez promptly left the program, just a few days before the start of the district season, citing family issues. Kluk was installed as the interim head coach.
It has a been a rough stretch for Los Alamos since the departure of coach Alan Kirk and star big man Alex Kirk following the 2009-10 season. Los Alamos has won just 20 games in those four years, half of which came in 2011-12, the only time since the Kirks’ departure that the Hilltoppers have made the playoffs.
Monday’s loss was the finale in the careers of roughly half the Hilltoppers’ roster, including Nolan Fox, Sidney Ellis, Skyler Veenis, Elliott Clay, William Steinkamp, as well as Archuleta and Drop.