Boys basketball: Toppers downed against Santa Fe

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By Mike Cote

It was one that got away from the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team Saturday night.

The Hilltoppers were in control for most of the first half Saturday on the road at Santa Fe, but the host Demons chipped away at an 11-point halftime lead throughout the second half and held on for a 67-62 win at Toby Roybal Gymnasium.

Los Alamos’ offense was slowed by Santa Fe’s three-quarter court pressure and couldn’t find a rhythm in the second half. When it did get the ball down the court it misfired on some good scoring chances, letting Santa Fe back into the ballgame down the stretch.

“We kind of collapsed at the end,” Los Alamos head coach Alan Kirk said. “I probably didn’t make some of the defensive moves I should’ve, but it was a learning experience for us.”

It was a disappointing finish for the Hilltoppers, who were hoping to build on a big win in their opener Tuesday night at Kirtland Central.

Los Alamos jumped out to a 16-11 lead after one period and outscored Santa Fe 23-17 in the second to build its 11-point cushion at the break. Los Alamos led by as many as 13 early in the third quarter.

Saturday’s game was the season-opener for the Demons (1-0), who put four players into double-figures. Isaac Jeantette led the effort for the Demons — who should be better this season than their 6-21 output in 2007-08 — with 21 points.

The Hilltoppers had a monster outing from 6-foot-10 center Alex Kirk. Kirk dropped in 32 points on the night, going 12-for-15 from the free throw line, while pulling down 19 rebounds.

Kirk is starting off 2008-09 where he left off in 2007-08. He had 28 points in the 70-35 win over Kirtland Central.

Jack Russell finished with 12 points for the Hilltoppers (1-1) and also led the team with three assists.

Russell, who also had 12 points against the Broncos, was 5 of 6 from the foul line.

Coach Kirk said he was pleased with his team’s 19 of 25 effort from the stripe, something he wasn’t so happy with in the debut when his team was under 50 percent.

Corey Clark finished with five points Saturday, as did Michael Helland.

One thing that caught Kirk’s attention was that while the Hilltoppers finished with 24 total assists Tuesday, as a team they had just 10 Saturday, something that he said is going to have to improve.

There’s still a learning curve Los Alamos is trying to negotiate at this point in the season, however, because many of its players are less than a week removed from fall sports.

But while Kirk likes what he’s seen from his top scorers so far, he’s hoping that some other consistent scorers emerge by district time.

“We need to find those three and four players in double-figures,” he said. “We had good looks, we just didn’t knock them down.”

Los Alamos will be on the road for its third consecutive game Tuesday when it faces Moriarty. Its home opener is set for Thursday against a perennial Class AAA contender, St. Michael’s.

“This is going to be a tough week for us,” Kirk said. “We’ve got three games this week with just a day of practice in between … We will see what happens.”