Boys basketball: Capital advances, will take on LA

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By Mike Cote

There’s only about one thing that’s been settled at this point: Los Alamos will host Capital Thursday night.

Beyond that, there’s a lot that’s up in the air.

The District 2AAAA boys basketball tournament winds its way through Griffith Gymnasium Thursday when the Hilltoppers host Capital’s Jaguars. Thursday’s game is scheduled to tip at 5:30 p.m.

Capital, which finished fourth in the regular season 2AAAA race, scored a minor upset of third-seeded Bernalillo Tuesday night, 52-47 and earned the right to advance to Thursday’s semifinal.

The winner of Thursday’s game will play Friday night at Española Valley for the 2AAAA championship. Española Valley won the regular season district title, going 7-1 (21-4 overall), its only loss coming at the hands of Los Alamos Jan. 30.

While Los Alamos hasn’t yet clinched a spot in the upcoming state tournament — the only way it can clinch is by upsetting the Sundevils in the valley Friday — it is all but assured of picking up one of the Class AAAA at-large bids and will very likely be seeded in the top half of the tournament bracket thanks to its healthy 18-8 record and wins over Española Valley, Belen, Bernalillo and Albuquerque Academy.

On the other side, Capital might be on the bubble to make the tournament field, having posted just a 14-12 record along with its fourth-place finish in 2AAAA.

The Jaguars may be able to improve their chances considerably of getting into the tournament with a victory Thursday.

This season, the Jaguars have given the Hilltoppers plenty of trouble. The two teams met three times in the regular season — once prior to the start of district play, which doesn’t figure into district standings — with the Jaguars winning two of those meetings.

Capital beat Los Alamos at the Poe Corn Tournament in Roswell Jan. 3, 69-65, then topped Los Alamos 61-58 Feb. 4 at Los Alamos.

In the most recent meeting, however, the Hilltoppers drubbed the Jaguars 60-39 Saturday night.

Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said that his team shouldn’t take too much stock in Saturday’s win, though, especially after watching the Capital-Bernalillo game Tuesday.

“I think they played very well,” Kirk said of the Jaguars. “It was an up-and-down ballgame. They put some pressure on Bernalillo and they’re going to come out and put pressure on us.”

Capital kept Tuesday’s ballgame close throughout, then went on a mid-fourth quarter run to take the lead. It knocked down its free throws late to seal the win.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Bernalillo had beaten Capital twice during the district season.

Kirk said Capital’s win Tuesday over Bernalillo wasn’t exactly a shock.

“I thought that Capital was going to do well,” he said. “I wasn’t totally surprised. Capital was going to press and Bernalillo was going to use its big guys to bang on the inside.”

Both teams seemed to have trouble hanging onto the ball Tuesday, however, something that Kirk said he wasn’t expecting. In the first half, the teams combined for 24 turnovers.

In Saturday’s game at Capital, Los Alamos center Alex Kirk dropped in 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds while Jack Russell and JR Chalmers each finished with six points. Corey Clark chipped in with six rebounds against a quick Jaguars’ squad.

One of the games this regular season that stuck in Los Alamos’ craw, however, was its Feb. 4 loss to the Jaguars. Los Alamos held a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter, but the Jaguars dropped in 29 points in the final period to earn the victory.

That loss cost the Hilltoppers a chance for a split of the regular season title with the Sundevils.

Because Capital has already beaten Los Alamos twice this season, Kirk said he wasn’t sure if a third win was going to do much to boost its potential postseason stock.