Shorthanded Hilltoppers drop home game to Hope

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By Phil Scherer

For nearly a month, it has felt like the Los Alamos High School girls basketball team has been taking one step forward, and two steps backward. Momentum gained in one game doesn’t transfer to the next game, and the team has struggled to find an offensive identity.

Tuesday’s game against Hope Christian High School, a 65-35 loss, was the latest example.

The Hilltoppers entered the game with a sense of confidence. Saturday, in the finale of the Joe Armijo Classic in Albuquerque, LAHS defeated district rival Albuquerque Academy 47-35 to earn seventh place at the tournament.

It was an important win for many reasons, not the least of which was that it stopped a three game losing streak.

It also showed that the Hilltoppers were capable of competing against a district opponent, which will become important next month.

However, the momentum once again stalled prior to the game against Hope Christian, which took second place at the Joe Armijo Classic.

Three important Hilltopper players were not available for the game, or even dressed out: Ashley Atencio, Susana Gallegos and Serenity Maestes. With their absences, the team would be forced to rely heavily on girls who had not played as many minutes in previous games.

In an attempt to find a new combination of players, head coach Josh Archuleta fielded an interesting starting lineup that included Hannah Sanchez, Jenee Montoya, Jenna Harris and Anna Lemke, along with usual starter Becca Green.

In a low-scoring first quarter, both teams missed prime scoring opportunities. Hope Christian struggled from beyond the 3-point arc, and the Hilltoppers missed wide-open layups, both in the half court offense, and on fast breaks. Hope Christian led 8-5 after eight minutes of play.

The offense picked up significantly in the second quarter, as LAHS found its stroke from the 3-point line. Alex Calderon, who has developed into one of the team’s most consistent deep threats, knocked down two of them, and Harris connected on one as well.

However, Hope Christian’s Hayley Valencia stole the show in the quarter, hitting four shots and scoring 10 points.

In total, Hope Christian outscored LAHS 17-12 in the quarter, and went into halftime leading 25-17. Calderon led the Hilltoppers with 8 points at the break, while Natalie Gallegos, Montoya and Harris all had 3 points.

After halftime, Hope Christian took control and never let up. Much like Valencia dominated the second quarter, Hope’s Candace Ellis made her presence known in the third quarter. She connected on three 3-pointers, scoring her first 9 points of the game.

Hope scored 21 points in the quarter, compared to just 7 for LAHS, and extended the lead to 46-24, putting the game out of reach before the fourth quarter began.

Despite that, Hope continued to pour it on in the final quarter, as Ellis continued his second half assault on the Hilltopper defense. She added 7 more points, and Hope scored 19 to claim an easy 65-35 victory.

Calderon led the Hilltoppers with 10 points, while Montoya added 9. Also contributing on offense was Green, who scored 5 points in the second half.

For Hope, Ellis and Valencia both scored 16 points, and Jycole Bush added 12 points.

With the loss, LAHS’ record drops to 4-7. The team will play its next game Saturday afternoon on the road against Artesia High School. The game will tip off at 3:30 p.m.

The game will mark the end of a nearly month-long stretch in which the Hilltoppers played 13 games with no more than three days off between contests.

After Saturday’s game, the Hilltoppers will have a break of 12 days leading up to the Clovis Holiday Tournament, in which LAHS will play three games Dec. 28-30. 

Artesia enters the game with a 2-2 record, most recently coming off a pair of losses to Silver High School and Gallup High School in the City of Champions Classic Tournament. Last year, Artesia defeated LAHS 45-44 inside Griffith Gymnasium in one of the most exciting games of the season.