LAHS suffers fourth quarter collapse in loss to Academy

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By Phil Scherer

After leading by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter against Albuquerque Academy, the Los Alamos High School boys’ basketball team watched the game slip away in a heartbeat, falling 72-71.

Heading in with a 0-5 record in District 2-5A, the Hilltoppers recognized that this game was the best chance to earn a district win this season, with matchups against Española Valley and Capital looming next week.

Academy entered the game with a 1-4 district record, with its lone win coming last month in Los Alamos, a 71-60 victory over the Hilltoppers.

If LAHS were able to win the rematch by 12 points or more, it would have earned the tiebreaker over the Chargers in the upcoming district tournament. And though that seemed likely at times during the game, Academy had other ideas.

It was a game of scoring runs, and that started from the very beginning. The Chargers appeared unstoppable in the first few minutes, scoring the first 8 points of the game and forcing three turnovers from LAHS’ Antonio Trujillo.

The Hilltoppers settled down after digging the deep hole, and climbed back into the game with a pair of 3-pointers from Trujillo, and another from David Owen. Michael Naranjo also played a key role in the quarter with 6 points.

Thanks to the aggressive offense, LAHS trimmed the deficit to 2 points, 19-17, after the first quarter.

The Hilltoppers’ strong play carried over into the second quarter, where the team drove to the basket at will, and converted opportunities at the free-throw line. The team went 9-9 at the line in the quarter, with Gavin Campos knocking down four, Trujillo knocking down here, and Naranjo adding a pair.

With the help of a strong defensive effort in the quarter, the Hilltoppers went into the locker room for halftime leading 34-31.

The momentum gained in the first half carried over for LAHS, as the team knocked down three 3-pointers in the third quarter, from Trujillo, Campos and Ramon Roybal. However, Academy did just enough to stick around, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers of its own, and spreading its offense around. Despite being outscored 16-14 in the quarter, Academy trailed by just 5 points entering the fourth quarter, 50-45.

At the beginning of the final quarter, the Chargers went on the attack, scoring 12 straight points to take a 7-point lead and stunning the Hilltoppers. LAHS had an immediate response, though, scoring 17 straight points. The offensive attack, aided by turnovers and rushed shots from the Chargers, gave the Hilltoppers a 67-57 lead with just over five minutes to play.

From there, it all fell apart for LAHS.

Michael Martinez and Diego Salazar caught fire for the Chargers, after being relatively silent for the first three quarters.

Martinez scored 9 points in the quarter, and Salazar added 7 points.

Meanwhile, the LAHS offense struggled to get set up, and could not find open shooters.

Trailing by two points with more than a minute to play, Ivan Balakirev drove to the basket for LAHS and drew a foul.

However, he missed both free throws, forcing LAHS to foul Martinez.

He also missed both free throws, giving the Hilltoppers one more good opportunity on offense. However, finding an open shooter continued to be a problem, as Owen took a contested 3-pointer from the corner with 10 seconds left on the clock.

The shot missed the rim entirely, and fell right into the arms of Martinez, who was fouled once again.

This time, he made both free throws, giving Academy a 4-point lead and sealing the victory for the Chargers.

Though Roybal was able to connect on a 3-pointers at the buzzer for the Hilltoppers, it was too little, too late as the Chargers walked away with a 72-71 victory.

The loss drops LAHS to 0-6 on District 2-5A, with two games remaining.

The Hilltoppers head back to the court Wednesday to take on 5A No. 1 Española Valley in the final home game of the season at Griffith Gymnasium. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.