´Toppers earn 1st win of year in overtime

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By Mike Cote

A long, painful journey to its first win is finally over.
With a big rebound-and-putback by William Steinkamp to force overtime and some key buckets late in the overtime period, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team earned a victory, its first of the 2012-13 season Friday night.
The Hilltoppers dropped the Taos Tigers 57-54 in overtime to secure the win, although there were plenty of intense moments along the way. The Hilltoppers struggled to get off a shot when down by two with the final seconds of regulation ticking away and were slapped with a technical foul with 1.6 seconds left in overtime that gave Taos a chance to tie.
Nevertheless, the Hilltoppers (1-13) held on for the win against the Tigers (8-5), who came into the game ranked No. 7 in Class 3A.
“That’s definitely a monkey off our back,” Los Alamos head coach Fil Dominguez said. “We finally get a taste of what it is to win. We had a lot of adversity this summer, we had a lot of adversity this season. We’ve been hesitant...but we put together almost a whole game.”
Los Alamos has had some close calls in its nondistrict season so far, including against Moriarty and Mayfield, but was never able to get over the hump until Friday.
The best thing about the victory, said Hilltopper Simon Heath, was that the team could’ve packed it in late in the contest but toughed it out.
“We have this thing, we don’t quit,” Heath said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re down by 50 with 10 second left. We don’t back down. Once our defense got going, we got momentum.”
Heat connected on a runner down the baseline with just over two minutes remaining to put Los Alamos up 50-47, then hit a free throw with 21.9 seconds left which appeared to ice the game.
But on the Tigers’ next possession, the Hilltoppers slapped the ball away from one of the Tiger guards. In a scramble for the ball, one of the Los Alamos players on the floor called a timeout – which Los Alamos didn’t have.
Kiko Martinez, who had a monster night for Taos coming off the bench, sank both free throws, then, got a step on his defender on the inbound play near the top of the key. Fortunately for the Hilltoppers, Martinez, who hit five 3-pointers in the game, didn’t have time to get his feet set in the remaining 1.6 seconds and his desperation heave at the buzzer went wide.
Martinez finished with a game-high 24 points. Almost by himself, he kept Taos in the game in the first half, scoring 9 points in the second quarter while the rest of his team managed only 6 points in the first two quarters.
The Hilltoppers, who have been notorious this season for getting off to slow starts, shut out the Tigers for more than 7 minutes in the first quarter, taking a 9-2 lead after the opening period.
Los Alamos built up a 15-5 lead late in the second period, only to see that evaporate by the break. Taos, which shot an ice-cold 6 of 30 from the floor in the first half, finally got some shots to drop, including two late 3s by Martinez, who didn’t play in the first quarter.
Taos took its first lead of the contest early in the fourth quarter on another Martinez 3, then moved out to a 45-40 advantage with under a minute remaining. But center Travis Richins, playing with four fouls, had a rebound-and-putback with 35 seconds left on a missed Hilltopper foul shot to put Los Alamos within two points.
Taos’ Estevan Garica, another bench player who had hit 6 straight free throws in the quarter, was fouled late but missed both his attempts, setting up Los Alamos with one last gasp.
The Hilltoppers tried to get the ball down to Richins near the low block, but Richins was trapped close to the baseline and threw the ball up toward the basket. Steinkamp, on the weak side, got free of his defender for a layup.
Heath finished with a team-high 13 points, 9 in the fourth quarter and overtime, while Richins had 12. Skyler Veenis had 10, including a 3-pointer in overtime, as well as three steals.
Dominguez said that while it felt good to break into the win column, there is still a long way for his team to go, particularly since the opening of District 2-4A play is just a little over two weeks away.
“We’ve got to refocus,” he said. “We’ve got to get defensive stops. We’ve got to play with a sense of urgency which isn’t there.”
For Taos, following Martinez, Garcia finished with 14 points. Taos’ five starters only came up with 16 points in regulation Friday as Los Alamos’ defense, which hadn’t played up to Dominguez’s expectations of late, came through with stops when it needed to – Richins and Sidney Ellis drew key charging calls against overly-aggressive penetration by Taos in the second half and in overtime to force turnovers.
“We knew this was a game we could win,” Heath said. “(Taos) is a good team, but we knew we could get them. Every time we scored a point, a basket, we D’d up even harder. This game moved at our pace.”