Prep girls basketball: ’Toppers stun Academy in OT

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By Jose Corral

The defensive effort that Los Alamos girls basketball coach Josh Archuleta was looking for came at a good time.
The Hilltoppers created hustle plays and intensity on defense to claim their biggest win of the season, a 44-41 overtime win against District 2-5A leaders Albuquerque Academy on Monday night at Griffith Gym.
Los Alamos improved to 6-15 overall and won its first district game. The Hilltoppers also ended an eight-game winning streak for Academy, which fell to 15-5 overall and lost for the first time in district play.
“That’s what it says about this team,” Archuleta said. “This team finally came out and believed in themselves. We told them they have to bring up the intensity every single quarter. It comes down to... do we believe in one another to excel and be the team that we know we can be? And that just happened here tonight.”
The Hilltoppers set the tempo in the overtime period and started the period on an 8-0 run. Los Alamos’ defense didn’t allow Academy to find high percentage shots and forced several Charger turnovers. Academy didn’t score in overtime until the 52-second mark but a pair of free throw cut the Hilltoppers lead to 42-39. Los Alamos put the game away with a bucket on the other end.
“We wanted it more,” Archuleta said. “That’s all that it came down to. We worked through the adversity and we felt it and we came out on top.”
Los Alamos senior point guard Elena Abeyta started overtime with two steals and a layup, which helped the Hilltoppers take control in the final four minutes.
“That was definitely a big confidence booster,” Abeyta said about her two overtime steals. “All of us just needed to calm down and set up the offense and stay sharp on defense.”
Los Alamos freshman Natalie Gallegos’ trip to the free throw line with 2:13 left in regulation turned into a four-point swing that tied the game. Gallegos missed her second of two free throws but Isabell Larribas grabbed the offensive board and launched a pass to Sienna Ahlers, who knocked down a triple to tie it 34-34 with 2:01 left in the fourth.
Academy had an inbound opportunity on Los Alamos’ side of the court with 5.2 seconds left. Alli Leggott inbounded the ball and received it back and had a clear path to the basket and laid it in. But a traveling violation before the basket went in was called and negated the potential game winner.
“All of us are finally coming together and realizing what we can do and the potential that we have,” Abeyta said. “We just need to have confidence in each other.”
Los Alamos looked as good as it had all year in the first quarter against Academy. The intensity on defensive was arousing, the passes were crisp and the execution was there on offense. The accumulation of all those elements led to the Hilltoppers taking a 15-6 lead after the opening eight minutes.
Academy responded in the second quarter by starting the period on a 7-0 run. The Chargers took their first lead of the game after Kelsey Crist gave them an 18-16 lead with 2:26 left in the first half.
“Defense is definitely key,” Abeyta said. “On offense we can be a bit rough sometimes. We didn’t give up. Usually we get frustrated but our coach was telling us to forget the past and move on. We just kept on fighting strong towards the end.”
The game was a makeup from a cancellation earlier in the season.
Abeyta led Los Alamos with 11 points, while Larribas added nine.
Sophie Long paced Academy with 10 points, including two triples.
The Hilltoppers got important minutes from freshman Rebecca Green, who came up with crucial rebounds and defensive plays down the stretch. Green, along with Gallegos, have stepped up from junior varsity to provide Los Alamos with more of a post presence.
“She (Green) helped us out tremendously,” Archuleta said. “Natalie Gallegos had an awesome defensive effort and hit some clutch free throws. Those girls gave us a whole different view that we didn’t have before. If we can matchup in size with other teams it gives us that edge.”
The Hilltoppers will continue District 2-5A play by hosting Capital at 7 p.m. tonight at Griffith Gym.
‘Toppers fall at Española Valley
Before Los Alamos’ big win against Academy, the Hilltoppers fell to Española Valley 53-33 on Friday night in Española.
The Hilltoppers scored eight points in the first half and were unable to find open looks against the Sundevils stifling defense. Los Alamos knocked down 14 free throws but that wasn’t enough to overcome Española, which was led by Leah DeAguero with a game-high 22 points.
It was Los Alamos’ 11th-straight loss against the Sundevils. Meanwhile, Española improved to 13-5 overall and 2-1 in District 2-5A play.