Prep boys hoops: ’Toppers upend Horsemen

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Los Alamos earns first win against St. Mike’s since 2009

By Jose Corral

The Los Alamos boys basketball team is off to its best start since the 2009-10 season.
The Hilltoppers improved to 3-0 on the season with a 59-50 win against St. Michael’s on Friday night in Santa Fe. It was also the first time Los Alamos defeated the Horsemen since 2009.
“It’s huge for them to get off to a 3-0 start,” Los Alamos coach Mike Kluk said. “This is just a big confidence booster for us. We didn’t really play all that well, but we proved that we can play with a quality program like St. Mike’s.”
During the Hilltoppers 3-0 start, Los Alamos has been without Antonio Trujillo, who was expected to be the team’s starting point guard before the season started. Junior Ramon Roybal has given the Hilltoppers quality minutes in replace of Trujillo. Roybal continued his impressive campaign with an 11-point performance against St. Michael’s.
“I’m really happy with Ramon,” Kluk said. “He has stepped up and run the point guard for us. He’s handled the ball and he’s handled the pressure. It’s been huge that Ramon has been doing well. Being without Antonio these first three games has gotten Ramon better. It’s just going to pay off down the stretch.”
Los Alamos capitalized in the post against a guard-heavy St. Michael’s team, and started the game on a 12-7 run. A Jack Stewart buzzer-beating triple gave the Hilltoppers a 19-11 lead.
The Hilltoppers extend their lead to 23-14 with 4:55 left in the second quarter, before St. Michael’s went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 23-21 with 2:05 left in the first half.  Adam Paulson gave Los Alamos a 26-21 lead with one minute left in that half, but St. Michael’s answered with a triple before the quarter ended, as the Hilltoppers took a 28-26 lead at halftime.
“They’re (St. Michael’s) are well coached, disciplined and they can shoot well,” Kluk said. “Troy Hammock came in and handled the ball for us. And Ivan Balakirev has been handling the ball really well and that’s something that he’s been working on. Ivan helped us big tonight.”  
The Hilltoppers started the second half on a 5-0 run after a 3 from Roybal and a Stewart layup. Los Alamos added seven more points after Paulson converted a layup and got fouled, while the Horsemen didn’t score a point in the second half until the five minute mark of the third quarter.
Playing with a 47-36 lead to start the fourth quarter seemed to faze the Hilltoppers, as they began the quarter with back-to-back turnovers. As the Los Alamos turnovers continued to mount, St. Michael’s began to crawl its way back into the game.
The Horsemen cut the Los Alamos lead to 54-48 with 1:32 remaining in the game and once again got to within six points with 36 seconds left. But that was as close as St. Michael’s got. Los Alamos finished the final eight minutes with 10 turnovers.
“The good news is we’re in these situations,” Kluk said. “It’s a different mentality when you’re playing from ahead than playing from behind. Now we’re playing from ahead and we have to put ourselves in those situations in practice.”
Michael Naranjo, who came into Friday as the Hilltoppers leading scorer, got into foul trouble early, picking up three fouls in the first half. Naranjo picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and fouled out with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter.
Despite Naranjo’s foul trouble, Los Alamos was still able to dominate inside, as Paulson, Isaac Fason and Cade Gasway provided big minutes for the Hilltoppers.
“We know we have a lot of depth, especially in the big part,” Kluk said. “Of course their (St. Michael’s) big guy got in foul trouble too, so they kind of balanced each other out. Michael is our X factor on this team. We go as he goes. We got depth and they all stepped up and it was good to watch.”
Paulson finished with a game-high 18 points, while Stewart and Hammock added eight points apiece for Los Alamos. Roybal hit three triples.
Los Alamos will compete in the Hub City Tournament in Belen, starting on Thursday against Centennial.