Girls basketball: Toppers drop contest for first place

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By Mike Cote

When it rained, it poured.
Unfortunately for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team, it couldn’t even slow down the torrent in the second half of Wednesday’s game at Española Valley.
After keeping within striking distance through the first half Wednesday at Edward Medina Gymnasium, Los Alamos was hit with a barrage of 3-pointers from the Sundevils. At the same time, Los Alamos’ offense, which had been working well heading in, sputtered in the third quarter and stalled completely in the fourth.
Española Valley, in a game to determine the early leader in the District 2AAAA race, nearly doubled-up on Los Alamos, taking a 64-33 victory.
“We stopped running our offense in the fourth quarter, “ Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said. “We were anxious to score and that hurt us. We still have some work to do, so we’ll go back in the gym and work.”
Los Alamos, which had won five of six contests heading in, had high hopes of stealing the contest on the Sundevils’ home floor and reversing its recent struggles against them. After dominating the series between the two teams in 2000-2008, the Hilltoppers have now dropped eight of nine meetings since the 2008-09 season.
The Hilltoppers trailed 28-20 after one half, a deficit that could’ve been much worse as they committed 13 first half turnovers. The Hilltoppers’ hot shooting — they were 7 of 12 from the floor — kept them in the ballgame, but the Hilltoppers converted three field goals in the final 16 minutes and no field goals in the fourth quarter until Erin Kirk’s putback layup with about :30 remaining.
Los Alamos managed just four points in the final 10:30 of the game and misfired on 26 of 29 attempts in the second half.
Turnovers didn’t end up being a big factor in the second half, however. Los Alamos took better care of the ball after the break and lost it six times.
On the other side, Española Valley’s Justine Vigil had a monster night, scoring 27 points. Vigil, a three-year veteran for the Sundevils, buried five 3-pointers in the contest, three in the third quarter.
Vigil had plenty of help from her teammates. Lauren Quintana scored 10 of her 14 points in the third quarter as the Sundevils (14-2 overall, 3-0 in 2AAAA) extended their lead to 49-30, while Desiree Howie finished with nine points, eight in the first half.
For the Hilltoppers, they once again got good production from their freshmen. McKenzie Logan was the team’s leading scorer, finishing with 10 points, while 6-foot Hayley Each had eight points and 12 rebounds.
Logan has led Los Alamos (8-11 overall, 2-1 in 2AAAA) in points in all three of the team’s district contests.
The Sundevils’ defense, hallmarked by its ability to strip ballhandlers and jump passing lanes, was again top-notch. Even with the Hilltoppers grabbing 11 offensive rebounds — Each had four and Kirk had three — the interior defense was good enough for the Sundevils to limit the Hilltoppers’ second-chance points.
“They are absolutely fearless,” Logan said of Española Valley’s defense. “And they’re quick enough, if they don’t get the jump, they can get back.”
Despite the loss, Los Alamos can still cement second place in the district race with a win over Capital (5-12, 1-1) Saturday night at home. Capital, which is no pushover despite its record, topped Bernalillo 48-36 last night for its first 2AAAA victory.
Los Alamos will get at least one more crack at Española Valley. The two teams meet again Feb. 12 at Griffith Gym, where Los Alamos picked up its lone victory of the past two-plus seasons against Española Valley last January.