Boys basketball: Hilltoppers knocked out of tourney by Jags

-A A +A
By Mike Cote

SANTA FE — Despite the fact Los Alamos wasn’t able to clinch a state playoff berth Thursday night, there appears to be little reason for boys basketball fans to panic.Los Alamos lost Thursday’s District 2AAAA semifinal game to Capital, 57-53 at Edward Ortiz Gymnasium. A win would’ve made Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers a lock for the state playoffs, but eyeing the rest of the Class AAAA field, there are few teams with better records or tougher schedules.Following Thursday’s loss to the Capital Jaguars — who have clinched a playoff spot and will face Española Valley Saturday for the 2AAAA title — Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said he would be pretty surprised if his team didn’t get a reasonably favorable draw in the AAAA tournament.“I’d be very disappointed if we were seeded (lower) than five or six,” he said. “I don’t know who’d sneak in there. In reality, we’ve been fourth or fifth all year long and we’ve got some good wins.”The district, which includes three teams in the top 10 in most statewide polls, is the toughest district in Class AAAA and half of Los Alamos’ 10 losses this season have been to either Española Valley or Capital.Thursday’s meeting was the fourth of the season between the Jaguars and the Hilltoppers, with the Jaguars winning three of those four.Los Alamos battled back after a rough first half, adjusting to a rough-and-tumble Capital defense, which held it to 17 points in the first half and forced 17 turnovers.The Hilltoppers hit just seven field goals in the first half in 20 attempts, but got a good inside-outside groove going in the second half to get back in the game.Los Alamos would never lead, however, after the opening three minutes of the ballgame.“Their defense forces you out of your offense,” Kirk said. “We knew the best way to get at them was going up-tempo. We had the right intentions, but our execution was a little weak.”Ben Allen and Alex Kirk combine for 13 of Los Alamos’ 17 first half points. The two continued to carry a good share of the load in the second half, but got better support from others, including Nik Allen, who had all 10 of his points in the second half.Capital had three players in double-figures Thursday, led by Randall Gallegos’ 13 points. Pablo Martinez finished with 12 and Luis Muñoz added 11.The turnovers ended up being costly for Los Alamos throughout the game.With Los Alamos down by eight early in the first half, Ben Allen buried a 3-pointer, one of two he hit on the game, to cut the Capital advantage to 18-13. But Los Alamos would turn the ball over on three of its next five possessions and eventually fall behind by as many as nine points before the break.Kirk spearheaded the second half effort, dropping in 10 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter.Los Alamos trailed throughout most of the second half by a margin of seven-to-nine points until back-to-back buckets by Matt Leyba and Kirk trimmed the Capital advantage down to three early in the fourth.Some aggressive moves to the hole by Gallegos and Muñoz netted big buckets down the stretch for the Jaguars (21-6 overall, 6-3 in 2AAAA), who bumped the lead back to six points with 1:33 left to play.Despite an odd series in which Capital fouled everything that moved while holding a late lead, it still held on for the win.Ben Allen had 13 points Thursday for Los Alamos (18-10 overall, 5-4 in 2AAAA). Kirk had his second-straight double-double of the 2AAAA tournament, grabbing 13 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 center also blocked five shots Thursday.Nik Allen had six rebounds and Leyba picked up five rebounds coming off the bench.The New Mexico Activities Association’s seeding committee meets Sunday to determine brackets and seeding for the state tournament. The brackets for all five boys and girls classes are expected to be released Sunday afternoon.

NOTES: Austin Wolstein, who has come on as a solid bench player for Los Alamos in the latter half of the season, missed Thursday’s game due to illness … Capital went to the free throw line 32 times in the game, hitting 20 free throws, while Los Alamos made just eight trips to the line, hitting seven … Alex Kirk was 6 of 7 from the foul line … Española Valley, the top-ranked team in the state, has three wins over Capital this season, two in 2AAAA play and one in nondistrict play … Española Valley’s Sundevils have won 25 straight games since its only loss, that coming in its first game of the season.