Late-game bucket drops Hilltoppers

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Boys basketball: LA can’t hang on to late lead in district-opening contest

By Mike Cote

BERNALILLO – It was a wild finish in Wednesday night’s District 2-4A opener between the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team and the Bernalillo Spartans.
With under a minute remaining and the Hilltoppers clinging to a two-point lead, Bernalillo’s Brandon Saiz made what would be the play of the game, scoring on a lightning-quick inbound play and converting an old-fashioned 3-point play. Los Alamos would have a couple of chances late, but couldn’t take advantage as the Spartans picked up a 51-48 win over the Hilltoppers.
The contest was the District 2-4A opener for both teams.
Los Alamos, which has had several games come right down to the wire recently, looked to have the game well in control with under six minutes remaining, but the Spartans’ late push was the difference.
“I honestly believe we’re two injuries away from having two extra wins,” Los Alamos head coach Fil Dominguez said of the late-game dramas in which the Hilltoppers have been involved. “Thomas Russell went down against Volcano Vista and Nick Baker got a cut over his eye at the end of the St. Pius game. Both those games might have come out differently.”
It was a similar scenario Wednesday. The Hilltoppers’ defense carried the team throughout the contest, but the offense remained spotty.
Working in Los Alamos’ favor against Bernalillo was its outside shooting game. Russell and Daniel Salazar combined for four 3-pointers in the second quarter as Los Alamos battled back from a first quarter deficit.
In the second quarter, the Hilltoppers outscored the Spartans 14-7 to take a 23-21 edge into the locker room.
Los Alamos got a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter, the second one by Salazar, coming with just under five minutes remaining, put the Hilltoppers up 44-38. Los Alamos held the lead, until Bernalillo’s Dustin Darnell scored on his third putback of the game, tying the score at 46-46.
Russell, who finished with a team-high 13 points, went long on the Hilltoppers’ ensuing inbound pass — a play that failed for Los Alamos just a couple of minutes earlier — and scored a quick layup, giving Los Alamos the lead back.
But 12 seconds later, Saiz, who led all scorers Wednesday with 21 points, broke from the top of the key on an inbound pass underneath the Spartan basket straight to the hoop. He caught the ball in stride and was hacked while dropping in a tough layup.
Saiz had 11 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Spartan comeback and give Bernalillo its 2-4A opening victory.
“It’s really big to get that first district win. That’s something we haven’t done in a couple of years,” said Bernalillo’s veteran head coach Terry Darnell. “Getting to 13-6, that gives us a chance to get into state already.”
Salazar finished with 11 points for Los Alamos (6-12, 0-1 in 2-4A), hitting three of Los Alamos’ seven 3-pointers.
Baker finished with 12 points and added eight rebounds and five steals.