Los Alamos gets first round win

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By Mike Cote

FARMINGTON – Not that there was any surprise to it, but the Farmington Scorpions wanted to keep Alex Kirk under wraps as much as possible Saturday night.

And for much of the game, the Scorpions were successful in making someone else from Los Alamos beat them.

And a couple of someones did.

Michael Helland and Doug Hardy came up big for the Hilltoppers Friday night down the stretch as Los Alamos knocked off Farmington 48-41 to advance in the Class AAAA boys basketball tournament.

The venue for Los Alamos and the boys state hoops tournament now shifts to University Arena in Albuquerque, affectionately known as The Pit.

“We’re not done yet,” said Helland, Los Alamos’ senior forward. “We don’t want to go down there and lose.”

After first round victories the last two seasons, Los Alamos has gone on to lose its quarterfinal playoff game.

The team that bumped Los Alamos off in 2006-07 is its opponent in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Artesia topped Silver 54-38 to advance to that game, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in Albuquerque.

Farmington (13-14), which Los Alamos waxed in the teams’ first meeting earlier this season, bumped, thumped and harassed Los Alamos’ star, the 6-foot-11 Kirk, as much as possible.

With Farmington using double- and triple-teams down low to limit his chances, Kirk got off just three shots in the first half and had a season-low two points at the break.

But with the Scorpions paying the bulk of their attention to Kirk, who had 33 points in the regular season meeting, Helland was able to sneak under the basket several times in the first half.

Point guard Jack Russell and Kirk found him all alone for three easy first half buckets.

Helland had nine points at the break, as many points as any other two scorers in the first half.

“The rest of us got open,” he said. “Alex created that for us and made it easy and we made our baskets.”

To open the third quarter, Kirk came back with a pair of quick buckets. Kirk, who led AAAA in scoring this season, finished with 14, just ahead of Helland’s 13, to go along with 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.

Farmington, which was a somewhat surprising winner in District 1AAAA this season, kept the ballgame within a reasonable striking distance throughout, even though the Hilltoppers would go up by as many as 11 points with 5:09 to go.

The Scorpions, who are a streaky outside shooting club, got hot around the midway point of the final period, nailing 3s on three consecutive trips down the court, including a long, off-balance, fall-away jumper by Steven Philbrick with 1:50 remaining which sliced Los Alamos’ lead to just 41-35.

With Farmington (13-14) trying to conserve time, it started fouling in the fourth quarter. Hardy, Los Alamos’ two-guard, hit 4 of 6 attempts from the line in the final period, including both ends of Los Alamos’ first double-bonus chance.

Hardy finished with eight points and was 6 of 8 Saturday at the stripe. He also contributed a big defensive play, blocking another Philbrick 3-point attempt with time winding down and the Scorpions trying to bomb their way back.

Things got chippy in the final quarter, with Kirk and Farmington’s Shane McGrath both slapped with technical fouls for a pushing altercation with 5:31 left to play.

The Scorpions were paced by forward Cody Conaway, who had 11 points. Philbrick and Jason Martinez both finished with eight points.

Farmington hit just two 3-pointers in the first three quarters, but had four in the fourth period which made Los Alamos sweat.

“We knew they were going to hit some 3s,” Hilltopper head coach Alan Kirk said after the win. “We knew it was coming and they cut a 10-point lead down to four.”

Corey Clark had five points, six rebounds and a pair of steals for the Hilltoppers (20-9), while Russell and Zach Parks each scored four.

It was the second straight season Los Alamos won its opening round game on the road. It had to play both those games on the road despite being the higher seed, as it was matched up with district champions who, according to tournament rules, are guaranteed a home game regardless of where in the bracket they’re seeded.

In other AAAA action Saturday, second-seeded Deming made light work of Goddard, winning 70-37. No other Saturday scores were reported as of press time.