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For three-plus quarters, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team got a taste of how far it had come in less than a calendar year.
For a good chunk of the fourth quarter, however, it also got a taste of what can happen when it doesn’t execute.
The Hilltoppers opened their 2011-12 season with a victory over the Kirtland Central Broncos Tuesday night at Griffith Gymnasium. The Hilltoppers built up a 21-point lead in the third quarter but the Broncos went on an 18-6 run stretching nearly six minutes late.
Before disaster struck, however, Los Alamos got a big fast break bucket from Nick Baker with 1:38 remaining. Baker would also take a charge on a Kirtland Central move to the basket late to help seal a 62-53 victory.
While the end of the contest got a little hairier than the Hilltoppers were happy with, no one was complaining about starting the season off with a win.
“We’ve come too long of a way not to be successful,” Hilltopper guard Daniel Salazar said. “We’re constantly learning off each other, we’ve got good people coming off the bench. We’ll just keep getting after it.”
The win in Tuesday’s game was the first at Los Alamos for new head coach Fil Dominguez.
Dominguez said he saw good execution by his team much of the night as well as the ability to snap back from a rough stretch to close out a contest.
Los Alamos, which was giving up a fair amount of size and strength to the veteran Kirtland Central team, had a big night on the boards. In the first half, Los Alamos collected five offensive rebounds, converting those into 12 points as it took a 12-point edge into the locker room.
Baker, who had one of the best nights of his career Tuesday, finished with 11 rebounds to go along with his game-high 21 points. He also finished the contest with five assists.
In the fourth quarter, with the Hilltoppers struggling to keep their offensive mojo going, Baker came up huge. He pumped in 10 points, including dropping in a pair of late free throws to salt away the victory.
He finished 8 of 12 from the floor, scoring 17 points in the second half.
Los Alamos’ 62 points against Kirtland Central was more points than it scored in any game last season under the direction of coach Matt King. Los Alamos shot a solid 50 percent from the floor.
On the other side, the Hilltopper defense limited the Broncos to just six field goals in the first half.
Kirtland Central point guard Cyrus Cly, who had to bounce back from getting a toe to the nose early in the contest, sparked his team’s comeback, scoring 12 of his team-high 16 points in the second half, including converting an old-fashioned 3-point play early in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Bronco long-range specialist Troy Rocke buried a pair of 3s in the final eight minutes, the second of which cut the Hilltopper lead down to 52-45.
But the Broncos would never get closer.
Dominguez said he thought his team started to relax after moving out a 42-21 edge with about three minutes left in the third quarter.
“The first three quarters, we were attacking the gaps and we were getting good open looks,” said Dominguez. “In the fourth, we got too stagnant...we got a little too complacent and we stopped moving on our motion offense. We stopped moving to the ball. They hit some pretty tough shots from the outside, but our communication on defense could’ve been a lot better.”
Los Alamos turned the ball over six times in the final quarter, but only committed seven turnovers through the first three periods. Meanwhile the Hilltopper defense forced 12 turnovers – Baker had four steals, also a team high – and held the Broncos to single-digit scoring in the first two quarters.
Nate Carver finished with eight points while Thomas Russell added six points.
Los Alamos 62,
Kirtland Central 53
Kirtland Central 9 7 11 26—53
Los Alamos 14 14 18 16—62
Kirtland Central — Cyrus Cly 6-13 2-3 16, Joe Adair 0-6 0-0 0, Troy Rocke 6-11 0-0 16, Isaiah Raymond 1-3 2-4 4, Christian Benally 2-4 0-0 6, Christian Mackey 0-1 0-0 0, Jeremy Yazzie 0-0 0-0 0, Jaycee Whiteman 1-3 1-2 3, Micah Smith 2-2 0-0 6, Jerrid Noble 1-4 0-0 2.. Totals 19-47 5-9 53.
Los Alamos — Thomas Russell 2-8 1-2 6, Nathan Carver 2-6 2-3 8, Nick Baker 8-12 5-7 21, Salvador Salaiz 1-2 1-2 4, Daniel Salazar 5-9 2-4 14, Franklin Archuleta 2-3 1-1 6, Skyler Veenis 0-0 1-2 1, Seth Drop 1-2 0-0 2, Derek Salazar 0-0 0-0 0, Xavier Dennison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-42 13-21 62.
3-point goals — KC 8-18 (Rocke 4-9, Smith 2-2, Cly 2-4, Adair 0-1, Raymond 0-1, Whiteman 0-1), LA 6-18 (Carver 2-4, Daniel Salazar 2-5, Archuleta 1-2, Russell 1-5, Salaiz 0-1, Drop 0-1). Total fouls — KC 20, LA 14. Fouled out — None. Technicals — None.