Gonzales leads LAHS to top spot in District 2-4A

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By Phil Scherer

In the classroom, Michaela Gonzales is only a sophomore. But on the basketball court, she is a leader and a key player in the LAHS girls’ basketball team’s turnaround this season.

It didn’t take long for first-year head coach Lanse Carter to realize he had someone special in Gonzales. In one of his first meetings with the team last summer, Gonzales gathered around a team full of players older than her and with more experience and said, “We are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

At the time, she may not have known how true that statement was. By leading her team to a 55-48 comeback victory on the road over Pojoaque Valley Tuesday night, she helped strengthen the winning culture developing around the program, and lifted the Hilltoppers to first place in District 2-4A.

Heading into district play this season, the Elkettes were the unquestioned favorites. The team was 18-3 overall prior its matchup with the Hilltoppers, though both teams were 3-0 in district play.

Once the game started, though, there was no question how evenly-matched the two teams are. The Elkettes were able to drive to the basket in transition in the opening quarter, knocking down seven close-range shots. On the other end, the Hilltoppers dominated from the three-point line. Jenee Montoya knocked down a pair of deep shots and Jenna Harris also knocked down a shot from long range.

LAHS and Pojoaque entered the second quarter tied 14-14.

Neither team was able to create separation before halftime, as Becca Green began scoring under the basket, and when she was double-teamed, Natalie Gallegos was able to knock down a rare three-pointer ash she was left all alone on the perimeter.

Pojoaque Valley led 26-24 at halftime.

The third quarter proved to be the biggest challenge for the Hilltoppers, as a suffocating defense by the Elkettes limited the team’s opportunities to score. Despite three more long-range three-pointers, the Hilltoppers were outscored 18-13 in the quarter, and were down 44-37 heading into the final eight minutes of action.

Two minutes into the final quarter, the Elkettes extended the lead to 48-38 and appeared to be in complete control.

Then, everything changed.

LAHS began playing a pressure defense that rattled the Elkettes, creating multiple turnovers. On the offensive end, the Hilltoppers appeared unstoppable, as Green scored under the basket and Alex Calderon knocked down LAHS’ eighth three-pointer of the game.

With the Hilltopeprs trailing 48-47 with just over two minutes left, Gonzales took over. She drove toward the basket and scored on an impressive layup to put the Hilltoppers up 49-48. Then, on the next possession, she scored the exact same way, extending the lead to 51-48.

After another Elkette turnover, Gonzales was fouled, sending her to the free throw line to secure the game for the Hilltoppers.

Though free throws have been a challenge at times for Gonzales, she knocked down both of her shots with ease, never touching the rim.

A pair of late free throws from Calderon gave the Hilltoppers a 55-48 lead, which was the final score. LAHS ended the game on a 17-0 scoring run. Pojoaque Valley went just 1-11 from the field in the final quarter, and missed its last nine shots.

Green led LAHS with 16 points despite being double-teamed under the basket throughout the game. Gallegos and Montoya scored 9 points apiece, while Gonzales scored 8 points, most of those coming in the final minutes.

LAHS improves to 10-12 overall, and 4-0 in District 2-4A through the first rotation of district games. Pojoaque Valley drops to 18-4 overall and 3-1 in district play.