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Prep boys basketball: LA outlasts Valencia in opener

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By Jose Corral

Mike Kluk said that not many teams would match up in size with his Los Alamos boys basketball team.
Tuesday was a good indicator of that, as the Hilltoppers outmuscled a small Valencia team to a 44-37 season-opening win at Griffith Gym.
“The bigs did a good job passing in the interior,” Kluk said. “We had some first game jitters. But it was a good first game for us against an opponent that we should beat. We got to practice and see a lot of things.”
After Valencia got off to an 8-0 start and a 14-9 first-quarter lead, Los Alamos dominated the second quarter defensively, not allowing a single point in the frame en route to taking a 21-14 lead at halftime.  
“We got on a little streak there and got a big enough lead to hold without giving it away,” Kluk said. “The boys did a pretty good job controlling the ball and ran a lot of clock toward the end. We were trying not to force it but at the same time we were still trying to score.”
The Hilltoppers continued the pressure on defense in the second half, holding the Jaguars scoreless until the 4:34 mark of the third quarter. Michael Naranjo led Los Almaos with seven points in the third quarter. A Cade Gastway bucket with five seconds left gave the Hilltoppers a 33-24 lead going into the final quarter.
Valencia woke up in the final eight minutes outscoring Los Alamos 13-11, including a pair of triples from Jake Mattox and seven points from Garrett Wade. However, the Hilltoppers had a big enough lead, allowing Valencia to only gets as close as five points from the lead. 

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“We finished awfully tonight,” Kluk said. “It’s like the basket had a lid on it. We have to do a better job and we can’t miss those shots. We practice that everyday and I don’t know if it’s because at practice they’re used to having other big guys guarding them and the shot is different. We have to fix that.”
Down the stretch, the Hilltoppers struggled to make baskets and missed numerous free throws. Los Alamos went on a five minute scoring drought in the fourth quarter.
“We tell them every time that the team that makes its free throws and layups wins 90 percent of the time,” Kluk said. “We were lucky tonight.”
Naranjo led Los Alamos with 15 points, while Jack Stewart added eight. Ramon Roybal finished with six points going 2-of-5 from the perimeter. Gasway and Adam Paulson helped Los Alamos dominate in the post with six points apiece.
“Michael got big in that third quarter and helped us get that lead,” Kluk said. “They can’t guard two or three other big men and have somebody to guard Michael. And that was our game plan.”
The Hilltoppers, who their second-consecutive season-opener, will host Moriarty at 7 p.m. Tuesday.