Prep boys basketball: Sartans out-tough ‘Toppers

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By Jose Corral

It appeared like the Los Alamos boys basketball team was on the brink of putting itself amongst Class 5A’s legitimate contenders.
But St. Pius proved that the Hilltoppers still have work to do.
The Sartans went into Griffith Gym on Thursday night and handed Los Alamos a 50-38 loss that made Hilltoppers coach Mike Kluk question his team’s toughness.
“That was not a good showing at all,” Kluk said. “I really think we just got out-toughed tonight. They (St. Pius) just played good, solid hard-nose defense and don’t let you go where you want to go, which is exactly what we preach to our guys. But they do it. I’m very disappointed with the effort tonight.”
Los Alamos was without Jack Stewart, who’s out with an ankle injury. Kluk expects Stewart to return in two or three weeks.
“It would be nice to get Jack back at full strength but it’s going to be two or three weeks before he gets back full strength,” Kluk said. “That ankle might let him get back by the end of next week.”
It’s hard to determine what impact Stewart would’ve had on the floor, as St. Pius got off to a 10-2 start. Brennen Myers, who knocked down two triples to start the game, scored the first eight Sartan points. Myers finished with five 3-pointers and a game-high 20 points, while the Hilltoppers struggled from the perimeter, hitting only one trey.
“We just got started bad and didn’t get much better,” Kluk said. “We have to get tougher. That’s the bottom line. That’s why we missed so many close shots.”
After Los Alamos closed the first quarter with a six-point run, the Sartans hit three straight triples to get a 19-10 lead with 5:41 left in the second quarter. Jason Arnett extended the Sartans lead to 25-11 en route to a 27-13 halftime lead.
“Up to now all we saw was zones,” Kluk said. “Now we get a man-to-man team where we think we’re going to do OK and we just don’t. So we need to work on that.”
Both teams traded buckets in the third quarter, until a Myers and-one gave the Sartans a 39-25 lead with 18 seconds left in the frame.
Los Alamos got as close as nine points in the fourth quarter but according to Kluk, the Hilltoppers never made a real threat at the St. Pius lead. An Anthony Trujillo trey gave the Sartans a 46-33 lead and sealed their sixth win of the season.   
“We have a lot of work to do but it’s good to play these teams now,” Kluk said. “And hopefully by the time we get to district, we’ll figure some of this stuff out.”
Junior point guard Antonio Trujillo led Los Alamos with 11 points and converted the Hilltoppers lone 3-pointer of the night. Antonio Trujillo’s speed and vision gives Los Alamos an extra offensive weapon, especially in transition.
“Antonio is a steady little guard,” Kluk said. “He likes to dribble so we have to get him off the ball a bit. When things get tough, Antonio tries to take things over and make things happen. And it’s not fair for him to have to do that. The other guys just have to get tougher and figure things out. The problem is when Antonio tries to start things on his own, the others stand around and watch him and now you got nothing going.”
Los Alamos junior forward Michael Naranjo finished with eight points, which is a step down compared to his level of play during the first three games of the season, when he led the team in scoring. Naranjo has experienced foul trouble recently but still provides the Hilltoppers with solid minutes despite not having the same offensive productivity.  
“We try to go with him but they (St. Pius) did a really good job of pushing him off tonight,” Kluk said. “He missed three shots early and got in foul trouble again. When Michael has to sit out a whole quarter, that’s not good for us. We do need to get him free around the basket and let him get there.”
After the loss, Los Alamos fell to 4-3 overall and hosted Eldorado Friday night after the Los Alamos Monitor Sunday deadline.