’Toppers go down by 24 to top-ranked Sartans

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By Mike Cote

In the fourth quarter of Friday night’s girls basketball game, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers came up big on offense.
But not nearly big enough to make up for the first three quarters.
The Hilltoppers connected on just six field goals through three quarters, struggling to get much going against the defense of the St. Pius X Sartans, the No. 1 team in the state, which was visiting Griffith Gymnasium Friday.
The Sartans held the Hilltoppers to just five points in the third quarter to build up a 25-point lead. The Hilltoppers finally found their stroke in the fourth, but it was too late by that time and the Sartans won the contest 68-44.
Los Alamos more than doubled its field goal output in the fourth quarter, hitting eight shots from the floor.
Guard Amber Logan, who had been shut out to that point, finished with 10 points, all in the final quarter, to lead Los Alamos in scoring.
Friday’s game was the second time Los Alamos has played the No. 1 team in Class 4A at that time. Los Alamos also met Los Lunas when it was No. 1 in the first round of the Joe Armijo Invitational in mid-December, and Los Alamos dropped that contest by 15 points.
The good news, though, is that Los Alamos should be prepared to face two teams in its own district playing at a high-level right now, Santa Fe and Española Valley.
District play opens for Los Alamos Jan. 21 when it hosts Bernalillo.
Los Alamos struggled in the first half against St. Pius’ full-court pressure, committing 13 turnovers in the first half, many of them coming right around the half-court line.
However, the Sartans, who, according to head coach Phil Griego, haven’t been using pressure until recently, couldn’t take advantage of most of those turnovers. The Sartans shot just 5 of 20 from the field in the first quarter and didn’t do a lot better in the second quarter.
Los Alamos managed only two buckets in the first quarter until a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by McKenzie Logan, which made the score 13-10 Sartans despite a dominant first quarter showing by the Sartans in almost every other aspect.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart said it was frustrating in the first half because, when the team did get open looks, it couldn’t make those count.
The Hilltoppers did get through the press on several occasions and set themselves up with makeable shots only to misfire.
“It was the same thing it’s been this year,” she said. “We got ourselves some good looks but we didn’t finish.”
Los Alamos (6-8) had won five of six games, including solid victories over Class 5A Gadsden and Oñate, as well as a dominant performance against West Las Vegas, but dropped both its contests last week, including a disappointing 47-35 loss at Belen.
Coming up this week are three nondistrict games, two of which should be big tests – Friday night at Class 5A Sandia and Saturday evening at Grants, a very solid 4A squad.
Griego said for St. Pius (9-1) there are also some big tests on tap, playing La Cueva, Eldorao and Cibola among them, before it opens district play.
“The big thing is we’ve got to get our defense better,” he said. “We’re giving up too many chances. We’ve still got a lot of tough games before district. We’re going to get tested, but that should help us later on.”
The Sartans, despite being one of the tallest teams in 4A and having a distinct height advantage over the Hilltoppers, did much of their damage from the perimeter Friday.
Forward Amanda Sanchez connected from long-range three times in the first half and twice more in the third quarter to finish with 20 points. Sartan guard Natalie Zamora was able to penetrate effectively, although she was one of the Sartans that struggled to finish, but she still ended up with a game-high 21 points.
Los Alamos shot 14-for-45 (31.1 percent) for the game, but only 6-for-32 (18.8 percent) until the fourth quarter.
Following Amber Logan’s 10, Krista Salazar finished with 7 points, as did McKenzie Logan. No other Hilltopper had more than 4.