Boys basketball: ’Toppers, Sartans to clash tonight

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By Mike Cote

It’s a date the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team circled on its calendar in the preseason.

Los Alamos will travel to Albuquerque to take on the St. Pius X Sartans tonight. Tonight’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. at St. Sebastian Gymnasium.

The Sartans (7-7) haven’t yet shown this season they’re the force that bowled its way to a third straight state Class AAAA title, but that’s not to say anyone’s taking them lightly, least of all Los Alamos.

“I think this is going to be tough, especially playing them at home,” Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said.

St. Pius graduated its star player from last season, Chris Johansen. So far this season, St. Pius hasn’t found that dominant force on the court, but Kirk said the Sartans are still fundamentally sound.

The Sartans have played a pretty rough schedule so far this season, having faced teams like Eldorado, Hope Christian and Sandia. It has also faced its blood enemy, Albuquerque Academy, twice this season, splitting those two contests.

Despite posting just a .500 record during its nondistrict season, St. Pius has won four of its last five contests, including a 58-54 victory over Academy Friday night in its first home game of the season.

Los Alamos (11-5), meanwhile, has had one of its longest spans to prepare for any game since the season started. Los Alamos was last in action a week ago when it topped Volcano Vista 65-47 at home.

In that game Jan. 6, every one of the Hilltoppers who got into the contest scored, the first time this season that’s happened.

Alex Kirk, Los Alamos’ 6-foot, 11-inch center, dropped in 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked eight shots and picked up five assists. Doug Hardy chipped in 11 points and five rebounds and Jack Russell finished with seven points and six assists.

Los Alamos and St. Pius met in the 2007-08 postseason. In the AAAA quarterfinal round, St. Pius scored 10 unanswered points to close out the game, spoiling a Hilltopper upset bid, to win 57-50.

Johansen had 21 points, although paid the price for them in the fourth quarter when a collision with Kirk knocked out his two top front teeth.

Currently, Los Alamos is ranked fifth in the AAAA coaches’ poll — a new poll will be released Wednesday — while St. Pius is unranked. According to the top 10 power rankings, compiled by Los Alamos resident Bob Walker and released Tuesday, The Hiltoppers No. 6 in Class AAAA and the Sartans are No. 7.