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Hilltoppers lose key district matchup to Española

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By Phil Scherer

The road to the regular season district championship became much tougher for the Los Alamos High School girls’ basketball team over the weekend, as the Hilltoppers lost to Española Valley 46-44 inside Griffith Gymnasium. 

LAHS is now in a tie atop the District 2-4A standings with Pojoaque Valley, as both teams now have one loss apiece. Heading into the final week of the regular season, both teams have 5-1 records. LAHS and Pojoaque will face off at 7 p.m. Friday inside Griffith Gymnasium. The winner of that game will be the regular season district champion and the top seed in next week’s district tournament. The loser will be the No. 2 seed in the district tournament. 

The Hilltoppers had a chance to inch closer to the district title against the Sundevils, but had trouble getting into an offensive rhythm and controlling the game. 

After jumping out to a quick 5-0 lead, LAHS had issues with turnovers and finding quality shots. Española Valley scored 16 straight points, including four three-point baskets in a row from Destiny Valdez. The Sundevils went into the second quarter with a commanding 16-5 lead, leaving LAHS searching for answers offensively. 

The Hilltoppers began the comeback effort in the second quarter, as Becca Green scored 6 points and Michaela Gonzales scored 4 points on transition opportunities. 

By halftime, LAHS cut the deficit to 25-18, and appeared to be playing with far more confidence. 

After the break, Española attempted to run some time off the clock, which worked right into LAHS’ plans. Thanks to turnovers and sloppy play by the Sundevils, the Hilltoppers cut the deficit to one point heading into the final quarter. Natalie Gallegos connected on a pair of three-point shots, while Green continued her strong play under the basket. LAHS trailed 29-18 heading into the fourth quarter. 

The final quarter proved to be a back-and-forth battle, as LAHS attempted to take control many times, with the Sundevils always quick to fire back with an attack of their own. 

Green scored every point of the quarter for the Hilltoppers, as her teammates looked for her underneath the basket early and often. On the other side, the scoring was far more evenly distributed, with different players stepping up for the Sundevils on every possession. 

With less than 30 seconds left in the game, the game was tied 44-44 and LAHS had the ball. Instead of playing for the final shot, which would have, at worst, sent the game to overtime, the Hilltoppers opted to be aggressive. Alex Calderon fired a shot from long-range, which missed. LAHS got the rebound, though, and another opportunity. 

Again, instead of holding the ball for the final shot, Green went hard to the basket and was fouled with 18 seconds left. She missed both free throws, though, giving the Sundevils the perfect opportunity. 

Española’s Destiny Valdez was quickly fouled, and made one of her two shots at the free throw line, giving the Sundevils a 45-44 lead. 

LAHS missed another three-pointer on the next possession, which gave the ball back to Española and ended the Hilltoppers’ hopes of going undefeated in district play. 

Another free throw gave the Sundevils a 46-44 lead with less than three seconds left, and LAHS was unable to get another shot in the air. 

In the loss, Green scored 28 points for the Hilltoppers, including 16 in the final quarter. Only three other players got in the scoring column for LAHS. Calderon and Gallegos both had 6 points, while Gonzales had 4 points. 

With the teams now tied atop the district standings, Friday’s game against Pojoaque is more important than ever. In the first matchup between the two teams, LAHS won 55-48 earlier this month in Pojoaque.