Basketball: LA teams will travel to Four Corners for first round

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By Mike Cote

It’s like déjà vu all over again for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team.

For the second year in a row, the Hilltopper boys are on the top half of the Class AAAA state tournament bracket and for the second year in a row they will have to play their opening round game on the road.

Los Alamos’ boys picked up a respectable fifth seed in the AAAA state hoops tournament when the brackets were announced Sunday, but were placed opposite of 12th-seeded Farmington.

Because Farmington enters the tournament as the District 1AAAA champion, however, it is entitled to a first round  home game while the 2AAAA runner-up Hilltoppers have to travel despite being the higher seed.

In 2007-08, Los Alamos was the seventh-seeded squad but had to travel to 10th-seeded Deming, which won the District 3 title.

Hilltopper boys head coach Alan Kirk wasn’t terribly concerned about having to travel despite being the higher seed.

“I thought the seeding was fine,” Kirk said. “We just have a game to play. We were hoping for a home game. Farmington, they’re going to be a tough opponent.”

The Los Alamos girls, meanwhile, picked up an at-large bid into the tournament, but have a rough first round draw. Los Alamos, the No. 13 seed, will have to play Friday against the No. 4-seeded Kirtland Central Broncos.

Kirtland Central, the 1AAAA champion, is one of the most decorated girls basketball programs in the country. It has won 17 state championships in its history, three more than Eldorado, the next-most successful prep team in the state.

The Broncos (22-5) were the third-winningest team in the state this season, with one of those wins coming against Los Alamos early in the season.

But Los Alamos (15-12) isn’t complaining about getting paired with Kirtland Central. Going into Sunday’s selection meeting, the Hilltoppers were still firmly sitting on the bubble for an at-large bid.

“I’m just happy to be there,” Los Alamos girls head coach Tarah Logan said. “At times this season we played really well and at times we haven’t …. As far as I’m concerned, this being my first year with the varsity program I’m thrilled that we have the opportunity to show what we can do.”

In the girls draw, St. Pius X received the No. 1 overall seed. On the opposite side of the bracket, Roswell picked up the second seed.

Española Valley, which topped Los Alamos Saturday in the District 2 championship game, didn’t receive much more respect from the NMAA’s selection committee than did runner-up Los Alamos. The Sundevils’ 2AAAA regular season and tournament titles only afforded them a 10 seed.

However, the Sundevils will get to host Friday’s game despite being paired with seventh-seeded Belen.

Following the first round of both the boys and girls tournaments, the venue will switch to University Arena (The Pit) in Albuquerque.

The state quarterfinals for the AAAA girls will be played Tuesday and the AAAA boys quarterfinals are scheduled for Wednesday.

The state title game for the girls will be held Friday and the boys championship game is set for Saturday at The Pit.

On the boys side, Los Alamos (19-9) will once again be the only higher seed that will have to travel to take on a lower seed.

That scenario wasn’t one that was completely unforeseen by Kirk, who had an inkling before the draw was announced that the Hilltoppers might get matched up against Farmington’s Scorpions.

The Scorpions (13-13) struggled mightily in the nondistrict season but went 8-1 in district play to finish first. Shiprock (15-11), which was a slight favorite to win District 1 this season, finished with a relatively pedestrian 6-4 district record.

“When you get to this level, everyone’s playing that last game,” he said. “You can’t take anybody lightly.”

Los Alamos’ 19-win total was equal to or better than all but three other AAAA schools — Española Valley, Deming and St. Pius X.

Española Valley, the 2AAAA champion by virtue of its win Friday night against Los Alamos, is the top seed in the boys draw for the second season in a row. It will play at home Saturday against 16th seeded Santa Teresa.

The Sundevil boys couldn’t advance past the semifinal round last season, where they got upset by last year’s fifth seed, Albuquerque Academy.

Also coming out of 2AAAA are Bernalillo and Capital. Bernalillo’s third-place finish in the district regular season afforded it a ninth seed in the tournament while Capital, which some thought might be on the fringe of an at-large bid, picked up a solid 10 seed.

No other teams from 2AAAA were selected for the girls bracket. District 6 placed all four of its teams into the state tournament.

Logan said she didn’t see much in the girls tournament that she wasn’t expecting. On a personal note, Logan said, she was happy that her former head coach at  Los Alamos, Tim Van Hecke, will take his Grants Pirates into the AAAA tournament as the 14th seed.