Prep boys basketball: Española Valley blasts Los Alamos

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By Jose Corral

This time, the defending state champions didn't allow Los Alamos to play its game.

Española Valley avenged its earlier loss to the Hilltoppers by claiming a 68-36 win Tuesday in Española.

"They did what they had to do to beat us," Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. "We just didn't match their intensity and their aggressiveness. Credit (Española), they pushed us out of our rhythm and didn't let us get into our offenses."

The Sundevils improved to 18-6 overall but more importantly moved to 5-2 in District 2-5A and is a regular season finale win against Del Norte away from assuring at least a share of the regular season district title. The loss moves Los Alamos to 11-13 overall and 3-4 in district, which puts it out of the running for the top-seed in next week's district tournament.

Los Alamos will need to beat Capital on Friday and have Del Norte lose to Española in order to claim the third spot in District 2-5A.

"If we can play well against Capital and hopefully get a win at home, that'll be a huge confidence builder," Kluk said. "Getting third place in district can hopefully help us get a seed in state and trickle down hill. Because after tonight's loss, the (state tournament selection committee) is going to look at that and say 'not sure if they're ready for the state tournament yet." 

In the team's previous meeting in Los Alamos, the Hilltoppers managed to get the ball inside the paint and capitalized on their size advantage. Los Alamos took the same approach on Tuesday as it got off to a 5-0 start by going to senior post Cade Gasway, who scored the first five Hilltopper points.

Defensively, the Sundevils began to face-guard the Los Alamos guards, which didn't allow Antonio Trujillo and Ramon Roybal to find Los Alamos' post players. And on the other end, Española went to junior forward Azaziah Salazar to produce its offense.

"Early we were OK," Kluk said. "They pressured us and were pushing and shoving on our guards. They got (the Los Alamos guards) sped up and got them in their heads. It kind of just started unraveling from there."

Salazar's jumper with 3:20 left in the first quarter gave the Sundevils their first lead of the game. Española took over from there and ended the quarter on a 10-0 run which was capped off by a Ryan Trujillo bucket at the buzzer.

The second quarter was similar to the end of the first, as the Sundevils continued to outplay Los Alamos on both ends. Española outscored Los Alamos 13-8 in the second frame, as Justino Rascon and Christian Fernandez began to get more involved on offense. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers impeded their own comeback effort by the turning the ball over.

"Once we got behind, they got momentum and it was over," Kluk said. "We couldn't get back into it. We'll take a look at (the game) and hopefully be ready for it next time. The whole second quarter we did not execute. I don't think we executed successfully a single play the whole second quarter."

Role players for Española helped put the game out of reach in the second half. JP Sena's six third-quarter points aided the Sundevils to a 48-24 lead going into the final eight minutes.

Española didn’t let up in the final frame and outscored Los Alamos 20-12 in the fourth.

"Sometimes you just have to go through this and then you know how to play it next time," Kluk said. "We beat them last time because we went inside. We started the game doing that but then they just pressured our guards and we couldn't execute."

The pressure that Española was applying led to plenty of foul calls and as a result put Los Alamos in the bonus for the majority of the first half. But the Hilltoppers couldn't convert from the free throw line and missed a plethora of free throws that could've helped ease the Sundevils defensive pressure.

"They pushed and shoved and grabbed us every inch of the way and the refs let them do it," Kluk said. "But you can't blame the missed free throws and the missed layups on the refs."

Salazar led Española with a game-high 13 points, while Fernandez and Sena finished with 11 respectively.

Gasway and Isaac Fason paced Los Alamos with seven points apiece. Junior forward Michael Naranjo made his first appearance since Jan. 31 against Capital, after dealing with an illness that left him sidelined for three games.

Los Alamos' key game Friday against Capital is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start at Griffith Gym.

"Capital is going to be the same way (as Española)," Kluk said. "We have some makeup work to do."