LAHS falls in first round of district tourney

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By Phil Scherer

A season that began with so much promise for the Los Alamos High School boys’ basketball team ended suddenly this week, as the Hilltoppers fell to Albuquerque Academy 62-53 in the first round of the District 2-5A tournament.

Much like most of the team’s district games, this contest will be remembered for LAHS’ inability to finish.

This became a theme during the Hilltoppers’ season-ending 11-game losing streak, specifically in close losses against Academy, Capital and Del Norte.

And much like those games, LAHS started strong in the district tournament. In the first quarter, the Hilltoppers connected on nine shots, including three 3-pointers. Two came from Ramon Roybal and the other came from Antonio Trujillo.

While LAHS shot well from the field in the opening quarter, Academy shot well from the free-throw line, going 6-8, as the Chargers’ strategy was to get the ball inside as often as possible in an attempt to get the Hilltoppers’ forwards into foul trouble.

LAHS only had three true inside presences active for the game, Ivan Balakirev, Michael Naranjo and Gabe Holesinger, making it difficult for any of them to play aggressively.

Thanks to the strong outside shooting, the Hilltoppers led 21-17 after the first quarter.

The offense completely dried up for both teams in the second quarter, however. After Academy scored 6 quick points to take the lead, the Chargers went scoreless the rest of the half.

LAHS didn’t take advantage, though.

The Hilltoppers had an equally tough time finding the bottom of the basket, as the only made shot of the quarter came on a layup from David Owen with less than two minutes remaining.

The Hilltoppers scored one more point on a free throw from Gavin Campos, and went into halftime leading 24-23.

The game remained close throughout the third quarter, as the offense returned to the contest. Roybal knocked down another pair of 3-pointers and Brandan Duran added one of his own.

LAHS also began cutting to the basket much more aggressively, earning three trips to the free-throw line, and going 5-6.

Academy’s offense was even better, though, knocking down nine shots in the quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers, as the Chargers went into the final quarter leading 43-40.

The Hilltoppers scored a basket in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 1 point, and the game was never that close again.

Academy continued to score with ease, thanks in part to foul trouble for both Balakirev and Naranjo.

LAHS did its best to keep up on the offensive side of the floor, but issues at the free-throw line popped up and kept the game out of reach.

The Hilltoppers went 0-5 from the line in the final quarter, including a pair of costly misses from Balakirev and Owen.

As LAHS continued to fire desperation shots in the final minutes, time ran out, on the game and the season.

Academy won the game 62-53, sending the Hilltoppers to an 11th straight loss, and a 0-9 record in district games.