LA faces tough Deming squad in 1st round

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By Mike Cote

If familiarity does, in fact, breed contempt, the Los Alamos Hilltopper and Deming Wildcat girls basketball teams won’t have to worry about contempt being a factor in Friday’s game.
The Hilltoppers will face the Wildcats Friday night in the first round of the Class 4A tournament. The Hilltoppers (16-12) go into the game as the No. 9 seed and the Wildcats (17-9) head in as the No. 8 seed.
The winner of Friday’s game will play in The Pit Tuesday, probably against the Los Lunas Tigers, the top overall seed in the girls 4A playoffs.
Heading into pregame workouts this week, neither Los Alamos nor Deming seemed to know much about the other.
Deming, which won the District 3 championship this season, was the only team out of that district to be invited to the postseason — this despite two of the other three teams having won-loss records north of .500.
Deming didn’t get out of the District 3 race unscathed, losing contests to Chaparral and Santa Teresa along the way.
Wildcat head coach Billy Almanza said his team was hit by the injury bug during the district season, something he and the squad have been dealing with all season.
Those injuries, however, may have been a blessing in disguise.
“That cost us a few games,” Almanza said. “We lost two posts at one time and we lost two guards at one time, but the girls came up off the bench and helped us out. Now we have much more depth to our bench.”
The Wildcats have decent height on their roster — junior Siboney Hernandez and sophomore Celeste Camacho are both listed at 5-10 and junior Edlyn Quintana at 5-11 — but Almanza said the strength of his team is his guard play. Deming has used its team speed upfront to rattle opponents on both sides of the court.
Hilltopper head coach Ann Stewart said her defense needs to be ready to slow down Deming’s guards, who are adept at penetrating from up top.
On the other end of the floor, Los Alamos should be fully expecting to be pressured with the ball, particularly after its 51-34 loss to Española Valley Feb. 28, in which the Sundevils used heavy full-court pressure in the second and third quarters to create 12 turnovers in those 16 minutes, many of which translated into points on the other end.
That stretch turned the fortunes around for the Sundevils and the Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers scored 15 points in the opening quarter but only 19 the rest of the game.
This marks the third straight season the Hilltoppers will have a long trip in the first round of the playoffs. The Hilltoppers faced Grants in both 2011 and 2012 and lost both contests. The team was home in the 2010 playoffs, topping St. Pius X and advancing to the quarterfinal round in The Pit.
Los Alamos will be relying heavily on senior Erin Kirk and junior McKenzie Logan, both of whom came up big in the latter half of this season, particularly after the mid-year coaching change when Stewart replaced Tarah Logan.
Under Stewart, the Hilltoppers have gone 7-5, with four of those five losses coming against Santa Fe, the No. 3 seed in the 4A tournament, and Española Valley, the No. 5 seed.
The difference between being the No. 8 seed and No. 9 seed is a big one for the Hilltoppers, who were 11-2 at home this season but just 5-10 away from it. The top 8 seeds in the postseason are awarded home games, but Nos. 9-16 have to travel — in Los Alamos’ case, it’s a nearly 330-mile long trip one way.
On top of that, Deming, which is 8-2 at home this season, usually has good turnout for its games. The Deming athletic department is expecting upwards of 500 fans for Friday’s game.
Nevertheless, Los Alamos feels confident it can escape Wildcat country with a victory.
“I think the girls are pretty focused,” Stewart said. “They know what the end goal is. We’ll do what we need to do to get a win on Friday.”
For Deming, it’s led in scoring by senior guard Kenzie Rinehart, who puts in 13.8 points per game and sophomore guard Jessica Jasso, who averages 13.1 points per game.
Almanza said his team is riding high heading into the playoffs.
“We’re very, very confident,” he said. “We had a good practice (Monday)…We have a good chance. Once we get out of the first round and into The Pit, we’ll see what happens.”