WEB SPECIAL: Toppers, Sundevils meet in girls quarters Tuesday

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By Mike Cote

Here they go again.

For the fifth time this season, the Los Alamos Hilltopper and Española Valley Sundevil girls basketball teams will face off against each other. And for the third straight time, it will be each other’s biggest game of the season.

Los Alamos and Española Valley, rivals since the doors opened on the two schools, will take each other on in the Class AAAA quarterfinals Tuesday at The Pit in Albuquerque. Game time is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. The winner will face the winner between top-seeded Kirtland Central and ninth-seeded Del Norte in the state semifinals Thursday.

The Sundevils, who won both the District 2AAAA regular season and tournament championships, beating the Hilltoppers in both deciding games, have taken three of the four head-to-head meetings between the two teams this season.

“We know how they play,” Los Alamos head coach Tarah Logan said. “We beat them once and we know what it takes to beat them. Our girls are ready to win. We need to go down there, execute our offense and play our game.”

The change of venue might be just what the doctor ordered for Los Alamos (20-10). It has been oft-cited that jump shooting teams struggle in The Pit, due possibly to the fact that there is open seating behind the basket rather than a plain brick or cement wall, which is seen more often than not in prep arenas around the state. The Sundevils (25-4) are known for their jump shooting, particularly from the perimeter.

However, to pull off the upset – the Hilltoppers are the No. 5 seed in the tournament, the Sundevils are No. 4 – Los Alamos will need to do more than just hope Española Valley has an off-day shooting. On offense, it will have to take care of the ball against a swarming Sundevil defense that feasts on turnovers and quick transition baskets.

As if it needed one, the Hilltoppers got a taste of what they will see against the Sundevils Friday night at home.

In the first round of the Class AAAA tournament, Los Alamos had to hold off the St. Pius X Sartans’ heavy full-court pressure late. The Sartans managed 9 fourth quarter turnovers, trimming a 17-point lead down to just 8 twice before Los Alamos dropped in some late points to win 63-56 and advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal.

“We’re ready for that,” Los Alamos guard Feliz Pacheco said following Friday night’s win. “We expect that, now it’s our turn. We have the momentum we need. We’re going to give Española a decent fight.”

In Friday’s win, Hilltopper forward Taylor Ealey finished with 22 points, 8 of those coming in the third quarter as Los Alamos moved out to the big lead prior to St. Pius’ comeback attempt. Forward Shelby Courtright and point guard Tyree Richins both finished with 12 points and wing Tina Radosevich had 7 points coming off the bench.

Los Alamos hit 25 of its 46 shot attempts from the floor Friday.

The Hilltoppers are in the state playoffs for the second time in the two-year tenure of Logan. The Hilltoppers were thumped in the first round of the 2008-09 playoffs at Kirtland Central.

The Sundevils, meanwhile, are just three years removed from a season in which they didn’t win a single game. Under head coach Ron Drake, the Sundevils have made the playoffs in two consecutive seasons.