Girls basketball: Toppers upend Sartans Friday night

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — While “must-win” might have been too strong of a moniker, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls basketball team knew Friday night’s contest was a “probably should win.”
And the team responded.
Facing a tough challenger on the road, Los Alamos earned a big victory over the St. Pius X Sartans.
It was the second of three tough games the Hilltoppers played this week. They lost Tuesday to Class 5A Volcano Vista on the road, then lost to a very good Class 5A team in Sandia Saturday night, 52-33 at home.
Friday night, Hilltoppers survived an ugly first half to grab a big victory over one of their key Class 4A rivals. Spearheaded by a huge second half from post player Erin Kirk, the Hilltoppers broke open a tight ballgame early in the fourth quarter to win going away, 49-37.
Not only were the Hilltoppers able to pick up a victory in St. Sebastian Gymnasium, one of the most difficult places in the state to play, they were able to adjust to the aggressive Sartan pressure and make key baskets despite struggling early in the contest.
“In practice, that’s literally all we’ve been running is press break,” Los Alamos’ Tina Radosevich said. “We’ve been having trouble with our shots, but even when they’re not falling, the coaches keep telling us to keep shooting, shooting, shooting.”
Los Alamos connected on just 5 of 14 shots in the first half, hindered by 18 first half turnovers but aided immensely by St. Pius’ 6 of 29 performance in the same span.
St. Pius (4-6) is in the middle of an odd stretch, in which it has been relegated to middle-of-the-road status in Class 4A. St. Pius has been one of the dominant forces in 4A throughout the last 10 years, culminating in three state titles.
In the first half, both teams struggled offensively. St. Pius, employing double-, triple- and even an occasional quadruple-team against Los Alamos’ guards in the half court, made life miserable on that end of the floor.
On the other end, however, St. Pius was getting few good looks against Los Alamos’ defense, which has generally been solid this season. St. Pius was forced to throw up numerous wild shots throughout. What good looks St. Pius did have in the first half were often off target.
Even more unusual for the Sartans was their poor foul shooting performance. The Sartans managed to hit on just 12 of 29 attempts at the line.
In the second half, however, Los Alamos found some passing lanes into the interior of the St. Pius defense and started taking advantage of those for some quick baskets.
Kirk, who has put together a good non-statistical season-to-date, then started to get hot.
She dropped in seven of her game-high 13 points in the third quarter, hitting a big 3-point play with under a minute remaining in the third, giving the Hilltoppers a 31-25 edge, their biggest lead of the game at that point.
Kirk finished 7-for-7 from the foul line and finished with three offensive rebounds in the second half.
With the start of district looming — Los Alamos opens against Bernalillo Jan. 18 — the Hilltoppers were hoping to pick up some momentum. They have had a rough start to the season, but are hoping this win, plus recent victories over Aztec and Chaparral, have gotten them moving in the right direction.
The Sartans’ 2009-10 season was ended by a loss in the first round of the state playoffs at Los Alamos. They traveled to Los Alamos as a 12th seed, barely squeezing into the girls bracket, and could be in serious danger of missing the playoffs altogether, particularly with a tough district slate including Del Norte and Albuquerque Academy.
St. Pius veteran head coach Phil Griego said his team, too, was struggling offensively, a struggle that continued through Friday. St. Pius converted only 12 of 51 shots throughout (23.5 percent).
The Sartans were paced by Caitlyn Martinez’s eight points. Martinez’s offensive rebounding hurt the Hilltoppers in the first half, but the Hilltoppers did a better job of boxing her out in the second half, limiting her touches.
Radosevich finished with 12 points, hitting 5 of 8 attempts from the floor. Christine Larribas added seven as nine different Hilltoppers got into the scoring column.
“We have nothing to lose,” she said. “We were pretty motivated coming in. We practiced, we wanted to work as a team, when we turned the ball over we wanted to cool it down and I feel like we did that.”

Sandia 52, Los Alamos 33

In Saturday’s contest at Griffith Gymnasium, the team’s first home appearance in a month, Los Alamos hung right with the Matadors through the first half.
In the second half, however, the seventh-ranked Matadors got their very potent inside-outside game going and forced some key turnovers on defense to pull away.
The two teams were knotted at 20 heading into the break, but Los Alamos managed just six points in the third quarter and only three until McKenzie Logan’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan knew the Matadors would be very difficult to keep up with, but she said she liked what she saw for much of the game.
“Had we played that team two weeks ago, they would’ve killed us,” she said. “I feel like we were able to play with them tonight.”
Sandia junior Elena Velasquez, one of the quickest player the Hilltoppers have seen this season, had a huge third quarter, scoring six of her game-high 17 points and earning two steals, one of which came at the midway point of the quarter with the Hilltoppers still in striking range that seemed to turn the game’s tide for good.
Freshman Hayley Each had a tough assignment coming off the bench Saturday, going against senior Camille Boal, but Each turned in perhaps her best performance of the season, scoring eight of her nine points in the first half.
Each and Logan both finished with nine to lead the Hilltoppers and Radosevich finished with seven.