Hilltoppers lose to Del Norte on senior night

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By Phil Scherer

Prior to Saturday night’s game against Del Norte High School, the Los Alamos High School boys’ basketball team honored its seniors with a Senior Night celebration. The moment offered a chance to reflect on what the group has accomplished, but also offered a reminder of what this season was supposed to look like.

When the season began, eight seniors filled the roster. Only six are still active. Jack Stewart left the team after Thanksgiving, and Andreas Runde suffered a season-ending leg injury soon after.

The six seniors that remain, Ramon Roybal, Antonio Trujillo, Troy Hammock, Michael Naranjo, Brandan Duran and Ivan Balakirev, have all played big roles this year, but the results haven’t followed.

The team has stumbled to a 9-14 record, including many close losses in recent weeks. That continued against Del Norte, as LAHS fell 55-51 in a game that came down to the final minute.

Hilltopper head coach Mike Kluk said that the team’s inability to knock down shots, and committing too many turnovers contributed to the loss.

“You can’t beat decent teams, and definitely can’t beat good teams, having 17 or 18 turnovers,” Kluk said. “It’s just tough to do.”

The game started strong for the Hilltoppers, spreading the scoring around and playing good defense throughout the first quarter. LAHS was able to knock down six shots in the quarter, including 3-pointers from Roybal and Trujillo that gave the Hilltoppers a 14-11 lead through one quarter.

The shots weren’t falling quite as easily in the second quarter, as the team put up just 10 points, and allowed Del Norte to take a 25-24 lead into halftime.

In the quarter, Roybal knocked down another 3-pointer and Balakirev scored on a pair of shots close to the basket as the team tried to take advantage of its height advantage inside.

After halftime, LAHS’ offense came back to life, scoring 17 points and scoring on a wide variety of shots. The Hilltoppers were especially effective in transition and on the inside, converting on many shots close to the basket.

The defense did its job as well, limiting the Del Norte offense to just 13 points in the quarter as LAHS jumped back on top 41-38 heading into the final quarter.

As has been the case in so many games this year, though, the final quarter proved to be a killer for the Hilltoppers.

Suddenly, the shots weren’t falling and setting up the offense became a huge hurdle.

Meanwhile, Ronson Begay turned into a one-man wrecking ball for Del Norte, scoring 10 points in the quarter and seemingly knocking down every shot he took.

His efforts, along with strong free-throw shooting by Daniel Flores, was enough to propel Del Norte to a 55-51 victory as neither Roybal or Trujillo were able to knock down any shots in the final quarter.

Naranjo led the team with 12 points, but was limited by a tight defense, especially in the second half. Roybal scored 9 points and Trujillo added 7 points, making it a rare night that both were held to single digits.

“They kept Michael (Naranjo) in check, so if Michael doesn’t score and Ramon (Roybal) and Antonio (Trujillo) don’t score, then we’re struggling,” Kluk said.

The loss drops LAHS to 0-5 in District 2-5A play with just three games remaining before the start of the district tournament. The Hilltoppers will return to action Feb. 14 with a matchup at home against No. 1 ranked Española Valley, which will be the team’s final home game of the season.