Prep girls basketball: LA drops 2-5A opener at Del Norte

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By Jose Corral

The start of district play didn’t seem like the start of a new season for the Los Alamos girls basketball team.
Some of the same problems that hindered the Hilltoppers during non-district made an appearance in their 45-29 District 2-5A opening loss to Del Norte on Wednesday in Albuquerque. Los Alamos fell to 5-14 overall and lost a district opener for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“It’s all going to depend on how much fight they got in them,” Los Alamos coach Josh Archuleta said. “I pulled my seniors aside and I told them... ‘It’s up to you girls on what legacy you’re going to leave. If you’re going to go out there and give a performance like that, then I’ll invest the time with the underclassmen.’”  
In non-district play, the Hilltoppers struggled offensively but were kept in games by their intensity on the defensive end. The same scenario played out early in Wednesday’s game. Los Alamos didn’t score until the 2:15 mark of the first quarter but its defense kept Del Norte (10-7 overall, 1-0 District 2-5A) from pulling away early on.
The Knights opened up a 10-4 lead before Elena Abeyta’s layup with eight seconds remaining cut Del Norte’s first quarter lead to 10-6.
“They tried to fluster us with their press,” Archuleta said. “We made some adjustments but they got a couple of easy steals. We stopped boxing out and they were getting four of five shot attempts.”
Isabell Larribas hit a triple to open the second quarter and cut the Knights lead to 10-9. But that was the pinnacle of Los Alamos’ offense in the second frame, as the Hilltoppers only managed six points after Larribas’ trey.
On the other end, Del Norte began to find open spaces in the Hilltoppers zone and jumped out to a 26-13 lead after a 3-pointer from Alexis Solis. An 11-0 run midway through the second quarter aided the Knights to a 26-15 lead at halftime.
“They stopped talking. They never talked in the first half,” Archuleta said. “In the second half, they talked real well for the first four minutes and then they shut down and stopped talking. Del Norte started getting opportunities because of our failed communication.”  
Del Norte maintained its double-digit lead throughout the second half and eventually led 32-19 with 2:02 left in the third quarter. Sienna Ahlers gave Los Alamos a glimpse of hope with her 3-pointer that cut Del Norte’s lead to 32-22 with 1:30 left in the third quarter.
But that was as close as the Hilltoppers got. Del Norte began capitalizing on a Los Alamos defense that appeared to be slowing down from its early exertion. The Knights outscored the Hilltoppers 19-14 in the second half.
“We have been a feared defensive team but with that effort, we have nothing to work with,” Archuleta said. “Our defense creates our offense.”
Malakah Martinez and Alicia Candelaria led Del Norte with eight points apiece.
Shannon Irwin led Los Alamos with six points, while Ahlers and Larribas finished with five.
The Hilltoppers continue District 2-5A play by hosting Albuquerque Academy at 6 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 21) at Griffith Gym.
“I want to see them go out there execute, play good solid defense and communicate,” Archuleta said. “I want them to execute on defense because that’s what will pull us through on the offensive end. Academy is tough because they got bigs and they got guards.”
Elsewhere in District 2-5A: The two favorites to claim the district faced each other on Wednesday.
Albuquerque Academy edged Española Valley 38-34 at home to claim its sixth straight win and improve to 13-4 overall. Española fell to 11-6 overall. Early in the week, the Sundevils were ranked second in Class 5A by maxpreps.com, while the Chargers were ranked fourth. That will likely change next week.
Capital will begin its district campaign on Saturday (Jan. 21) at home against Del Norte.