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ALBUQUERQUE – Early in the second half, Erin Kirk buried a 3-pointer to put the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team 29-27.
Unbeknownst to the Hilltoppers, that would be their last hurrah of the ballgame.
After going toe-to-toe with the Los Lunas Tigers in the first half of Thursday’s opening round of the Joe Armijo Invitational, Los Alamos was hammered in the second half of its game against Los Lunas.
Los Lunas, taking advantage of eight Los Alamos turnovers in the third quarter and turning them into 11 points on the other end, outscored the Hilltoppers 32-6 in the final 7:30 of the period.
The big turnaround blew open what had been a tight contest up to that point. Tinaya Murphy had 7 points and Teige Zeller dropped in 6 during the third quarter to lead Los Lunas.
Los Lunas led by just one point, 28-27 at the break, and that came about only because of two late 3-pointers by Sanae Gaerlan.
It was an inexplicable turnaround, but Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said her inside players, Hayley Each, Marissa Larribas and Kirk got into foul trouble, throwing a monkey wrench into much of what the Hilltoppers were doing.
“The biggest problem in second half is we fouled out our big girls,” Logan said. “Kiana did well coming off the bench against Teige, but we fell behind and we just couldn’t battle back.”
The officiating for this tournament, considered to be one of the premier regular season tournaments in the state, was oddly tight in Thursday’s first round. For this contest, it was also very inconsistent.
Larribas fouled out with 53.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter, while Each was gone less than three minutes into the fourth quarter.
With all three battling foul trouble in the second half, Los Lunas’ very quick guards took advantage, slashing into the lane for buckets, while at the same time the Tigers’ perimeter shooting started to catch on.
Los Lunas, which plays one of the most frenetic offenses in the state, also got its turnovers under control in the third quarter after throwing the ball away 14 times before the half.
For Los Alamos (3-4), which lost its first game of the season against another Class 4A team, then lost Friday morning to Class 5A Cibola, 44-22, it got sucked into the track meet-pace in the second half and struggled against the Tigers’ full-court pressure.
The Hilltoppers actually led by as much as 19-12 midway through the second quarter with Each dropping in 12 of her team-high 14 points in the opening half.
Kirk finished with 11 points, going 6-for-6 from the foul line, and Alison Crane had 7 coming off the bench.
The Hilltoppers actually finished with more points from the charity stripe (24) than the floor (21).
Despite its struggles against the Los Lunas guards in the second half, the Hilltopper defense actually did a respectable job containing Zeller, one of the most dominant players in the state. Zeller finished with just 15 points and didn’t score in the fourth quarter despite playing all but the final 2-1/2 minutes.