’Toppers girls hoops fall to Sundevils

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By Jose Corral

The Los Alamos girls basketball team didn’t have an answer for Alexis Lovato.
Lovato scored 24 of Española Valley’s 34 second-half points to lead the Sundevils to a 64-32 win against the Hilltoppers Wednesday at Griffith Gym.
“You can’t ensure anything with a loss like this,” Los Alamos coach Josh Archuleta said. “They’re not defeated. Overall you can’t measure success on just wins and losses. The success coming out of this is that the drama between Los Alamos and Española is officially over.”
Española improved to 17-6 overall and 6-1 in District 2-5A and is one step closer to clinching the regular season district title and the top-seed for next week’s district tournament. The Sundevils just need a regular season finale win vs. Del Norte to clinch both.
Los Alamos fell to 6-19 overall and 1-6 in district play. The Hilltoppers remained in last place but a win against Capital on Saturday would give them the No. 4 seed and the right to host the first round of the district tournament.
“That’s going to be crucial because Capital does have a win on us. We both only lost one game in district. This game is going to reflect who gets that first district game,” Archuleta said. “That’s crucial for us.”
Early on, the Hilltoppers managed to keep pace with the Sundevils, who started the game on a 9-2 run. But Los Alamos answered by closing the first quarter on a 9-2 run of its own and tied it 11-11 going into the second quarter.
That’s when Española got its perimeter shooting going, as Alycia Archibeque hit a triple to extend the Sundevils lead to 20-13 with 3:50 left in the second. Los Alamos freshman Rebecca Green scored four points in the quarter to pull the Hilltoppers to within 25-19.
Española’s Leah DeAguero closed out her stellar first half by getting a steal and a layup and knocking down a 3-pointer in the final 30 seconds to help give the Sundevils a 30-21 lead at halftime.
“We were with them for that half,” Archuleta said. “They made a run but then I went with my younger group to finish off the half.”
Lovato began to take over in the third quarter and her layup with 3:28 remaining in the period gave Espanola a 40-25 lead. The Sundevils defense forced several turnovers in the third quarter, which helped them get more possessions and feed the ball to Lovato.
Despite Española capitalizing on its frontcourt advantage, the Sundevils were still persistent from 3-point range, and a triple from DeAguero extended the lead to 48-25. Los Alamos couldn’t execute offensively and was outscored 18-6 in the third and 16-5 in the final eight minutes.   
“It was that third quarter where they dominated us,” Archuleta said. “The 3-point shooting is the one that was killing us. When I tried to put my underclassmen back in, they just didn’t that fire in them.”
Green was Los Alamos’ biggest offensive weapon and finished with 10 points.
Lovato tallied a game-high 29 points, including scoring 14 of the Sundevils last 16 points. DeAguero finished with 16 points, while Archibeque scored 11 to aide Española to its 13th straight win against Los Alamos.
Los Alamos and Capital is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday in Santa Fe and the winner will host a district tournament game next week.
“The underclassmen will be starting against Capital,” Archuleta said. “The seniors know that and they’re OK with it. They know their roles.”
Five in, five out: Archuleta opted to start five seniors Wednesday and used substitution packages of five players at a time throughout the game. The seniors were replaced by a group of underclassmen, which Archuleta wanted to get district play experience.   
“That’s something I’ve been trying to do just because I can’t start next year season with inexperience,” Archuleta said. “We’re trying to build that experience by matching the underclassmen with the upperclassmen.”  
Senior night: Los Alamos seniors Isabell Larribas, Sienna Ahlers, Casey Trujillo, Elena Abeyta, Shannon Irwin and Ashley Logan were honored pregame for their contributions the Hilltoppers girls basketball program.
“The seniors are a good group of girls and they’re great role models for these underclassmen. They’re outstanding girls to look up to,” Archuleta said. “They welcomed me with open arms and they just wanted an opportunity to prove themselves.”
Logan was expected to be Los Alamos’ main threat during the season. But she suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the eighth game of the season. She remained supportive of the team and spent time on the Los Alamos bench for the remainder of the season.