Prep basketball: LA upset bid falls short at Farmington

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By Jose Corral

For a half, it appeared like the Los Alamos boys basketball team was on its way to pulling off the biggest upset in the Class 5A state tournament.

But the upset bid fell short after No. 3 Farmington outscored the 14-seeded Hilltoppers 35-15 in the second half en route to 53-40 win in the first round Saturday night in Farmington.

"They (Farmington) picked up their game," Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. "They got on a roll and we got into trying to catch up with 3s. We quit attacking and that hurt us."

The Scorpions advanced to the quarterfinals, where they'll face No. 6 Los Lunas Wednesday at the Pit in Albuquerque. Los Alamos' season ends at 13-15 overall after falling to Farmington for the second time this season.

Nick Granger led the Scorpions with a game-high 17 points, while Sol Rascon finished with 14.

The backcourt duo of junior guards Ramon Roybal and Antonio Trujillo paced Los Alamos with 12 points apiece. All of Roybal's points came from 3-point range, while Trujillo knocked down two triples. Junior guard Jack Stewart added 11 for Los Alamos.

"We definitely could've done better," Stewart said. "We collapsed as a team. That comes with the maturity. I think next year we'll comeback even stronger."

The Hilltoppers led 25-17 at halftime. But that lead didn't last long as the Scorpions started the third quarter on a 12-0 run. That run began with Granger's triple on Farmington's first possession of the second half. 

Even after the Scorpions took a 29-25 lead, Los Alamos answered with a mini-run of its own. Roybal hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Hilltoppers a 33-30 lead with 1:43 left in the third quarter. Los Alamos garnered the lead until a Kody Becenti layup tied it 34-34 going into the fourth quarter.

After Roybal began the final quarter by knocking down a triple, Keaton Christy answered on the next Farmington possession and the Scorpion began to pull away after that. Rascon drove down the lane and banked in a shot to give the Scorpions a 43-37 lead with 2:21 left in the fourth. Farmington sealed it from the free throw line, hitting 12 free throws in final eight minutes, including six from Granger.

"We forced up a couple shots that we didn't need to at the wrong time," Kluk said. "Once they got ahead of us again, it was hard to get back on a roll. We just got out of rhythm. Credit to them... they picked up their game. We tried to catch up with every possession instead of working as a team."

In the first half, the Hilltoppers had success passing the ball inside. Although it didn't result to points inside the paint, it did free up space in the perimeter and allowed Los Alamos to hit five 3-pointers in the first half.  

Stewart scored seven of Los Alamos' last nine first-half points to close out a second quarter where the Hilltoppers outscored the Scorpions 19-8.

But Los Alamos didn't have the same success getting the ball inside in the second half and was forced to take contested shots from the perimeter.

"We just got out of our momentum," Stewart said. "We couldn't handle their intensity and lost it a little bit. (In the first half) we were just able to control the ball and get where we wanted to go. And they kind of got us out of that in the second half and that's where we went wrong."

Six-foot-2 senior forward Isaac Fason missed the first round game due to a thumb injury.

"It would've helped us a ton," Kluk said about not having Fason. "He's a big bruiser that can go in there and help us get to the free throw line more. That was a big hit. Not having him hurt us quite a bit."   

Stewart mentioned maturity in his postgame comments about not being able to hold on to the halftime lead. That, coupled with inexperience at this juncture of the season, potentially led to the Hilltoppers falling apart in front of an energized crowd that was sending off a five-decade old gymnasium (Farmington will be playing in a new gym next season for the first time 1962).

Saturday was Los Alamos' first state tournament appearance since 2012. And that postseason experience will benefit a team that is foundationally built by its junior class, led by Stewart, Trujillo and Roybal.

"If you can get into the state tournament, they see their name on the bracket and you come out and play in front of a nice crowd. It's something those juniors will have in their minds for next year," Kluk said. "It's big with this junior class being seniors next year."

Los Alamos loses Cade Gasway, Adam Paulson, Isaac Fason and Will Carter to graduation.

"The senior class this year are just quality young men with bright futures," Kluk said. "They're just great kids. I'm going to miss them."