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Hilltoppers fall in first round of state tournament to Highland

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By Phil Scherer

All season, the Los Alamos High School girls’ basketball team’s biggest strength was its size. Against nearly every team on its schedule, the Hilltoppers had a size advantage that it exploited to find success. 

In the first round of the state tournament, though, LAHS ran into a rare opponent with even more size, creating a tough matchup. Though the Hilltoppers hung tough for a while, Highland High School proved to have too much depth and talent for the Hilltoppers to handle, as the Hornets defeated LAHS 62-38.

LAHS ends the season with an overall record of 13-16. Though the Hilltoppers had their sights set on higher goals, the team made great progress throughout the season, more than doubling their win total from a season ago. 

Each of the past two seasons, LAHS finished with records of 6-21, winning only one district game each season. This year, the Hilltoppers were in control of District 2-4A for much of the season and finished with a 6-2 record against district opponents, good for second place. 

The team played with a much higher skill level, particularly under the basket, where Becca Green, Natalie Gallegos and Michaela Gonzales thrived. 

Early on against Highland, that skill was on display, as Green dominated opponents taller than her on the offensive end, and everyone played great defense against Cailie Crawford, the Hornets top offensive threat. 

She entered the game averaging more than 23 points per game as only a sophomore. There have already been more than 20 Division I colleges that have scouted Crawford, who is ranked as one of the top 10 players in the Southwest.

She found shots hard to come by in the first half of the game, scoring only 9 points. 

After adjusting to the Hilltopper defense, her teammates made up for it, though. The Hornets led 17-10 after the first quarter and 30-17 at halftime. 

LAHS found open shots throughout the first half, but had trouble scoring. Jenee Montoya and Alex Calderon were unable to knock down three-point baskets they normally do, and short jumpers from Gallegos, Green and Gonzales were not falling. 

In the second half, LAHS continued falling behind and were unable to stop the Hornet momentum. Highland point guard Denice Ryan stole passes away from the Hilltoppers in the backcourt and converted them for points, while Crawford found her offensive rhythm as well. 

The Hornets extended the lead to 47-26 after the third quarter and cruised to a 62-38 victory. 

Crawford finished the game with 16 points, as well as numerous assists, blocks and steals. She impressed with her speed on both ends of the floor. 

Green led the way for the Hilltoppers with 15 points, while Gonzales added 11 points and Gallegos had 7 points. 

LAHS is only losing three players, Alix Hailey, Mattie Ruminer and Calderon, to graduation. 

Highland advanced to the state quarterfinals, where the Hornets face LAHS’ District 2-4A rival Española Valley. 

The No. 13 seeded Sundevils defeated No. 4 seeded Pojoaque Valley in the first round 67-57 in Pojoaque. In terms of seeding, it was one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the first round.