The Topper girls pose for a photo following their game Thursday night in the Ben Lujan Gymnasium in Pojoaque. The Toppers and Elkettes were in a tie for first place in the district before the game. The Toppers won 55-48, taking over the top spot in the district. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Michaela Gonzales turns the corner on her way to the bucket. She had eight points for the night and was a force at both ends of the court. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
By GEORGE MORSE
Sports & Outdoors
Los Alamos Daily Post
The Los Alamos High School girls basketball team took over first place in District 2-4A with a 55-48 victory over Pojoaque Valley High School Feb. 5 at Pojoaque. The Lady Hilltoppers are now 4-0 and in first place in the district standings. The victory capped what has so far been a remarkable recovery by the Hilltoppers.
When the Los Alamos began play Jan. 22 in District 2-4A, they were just 6-11 on the season. The task before them was pretty clear. Make their mark in District 2-4A competition or watch the postseason state basketball tournament from the stands as a fan.
It would not be an easy task. The Hilltoppers started with a hard-fought 62-54 overtime victory at home against Moriarty High School, followed by a surprising win Jan. 31 over defending district champion Espanola Valley High School. The Lady Sundevils are seeking their sixth straight district title. Los Alamos came away with a 69-59 victory. The Hilltoppers handled a struggling Taos High School team easily 53-27 in their next district game Feb. 2 to improve to 3-0 in District 2-4A.
Their next district opponent was Pojoaque Valley High School Feb. 5 at Pojoaque. The Elkettes were off to an impressive start, 18-3 overall and ranked fourth in the state. Also undefeated 3-0 in District 2-4A, defeating Pojoaque looked like the most daunting task yet for the Hilltoppers.
It looked like the Elkettes would prevail and halt Los Alamos’ district-game winning streak when Pojoaque’s Camille Cordova sank a free throw that gave Pojoaque a 48-38 lead in the fourth quarter with just under six minutes left in the game. Pojoaque had their running game going and was forcing turnovers that led to layups. The Elkettes had finished the third quarter with an 8-0 run and had outscored Los Alamos 4-1 to start the fourth quarter.
Los Alamos Coach Lanse Carter had been going with a man-to-man defense, but decided to switch to a half-court trap.
“We couldn’t trap out of a man, so we decided to extend the pressure with a trapping, half-court press,” Coach Carter said. “I gotta give credit to the girls to them. They switched to it right away.”
Pojoaque seemed to fluster the Elkettes, who up until now had been running an efficient half-court offense. Now the Elkettes started to miss shots that were not the best they could work for. Pojoaque started to commit turnovers.
Los Alamos’ Brebecca (Becca) Greenstarted Los Alamos’ comeback with a basket inside, where she uses her strength and 5-foot, 11-inch height to score and grab rebounds. Natalie Gallegos followed with a putback basket and Green drew a foul in the paint, canning two free throws. When guard Alex Calderon nailed a three-pointer, the Hilltoppers were within a point of catching the Elkettes 48-47. It was Los Alamos’ eighth three-pointer of the game and probably the biggest.
“That helps us a lot,” Los Alamos forward Michaela Gonzales said. “It pumps us up.”
A pumped-up Gonzales put the Hilltoppers ahead 49-48 with a putback of a Calderon miss with 2:16 left in the game.
She followed that up with a fast break layup off a Pojoaque miss. The Elkettes did not score a point in final 5 minutes of the game and turned the ball over five times.
“We had passes that we didn’t catch when we were wide open and shots that went in and out,” Pojoaque Coach Seledon Martinez said.
Pojoaque fired up hurried three-point shots that were off the mark in the final minute of the game. Los Alamos finished off the comeback with Gonzales and Calderon each sinking a pair of free throws.
It was a solemn Pojoaque team and a jubilant team of Hilltoppers that lined up after the game.
“This is very satisfying for us,” “We had to work hard for this. It wasn’t handed to us.”
The game had started with Los Alamos showing some uncharacteristic long-range accuracy. With pojaque doubling-down on Green in the paint, the perimeter was open. Jenee Montoya had a pair of three-pointers and Rayna Morales another for the Hilltoppers. The score was tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter.
Two baskets by Green gave Los Alamos an 18-14 lead in the second quarter. Pojoaque came back and took the lead 22-21 on Ashten Martinez’s old fashioned, three-point play. Pojoaque’s only three-pointer of the game by Alicia Sanchez came in the second quarter and the Elkettes led 26-24 at halftime.
Montoya and Natalie Gallegos had three-pointers to start the third quarter to give Los Alamos a 30-26 lead in the third quarter. The Hilltoppers led 37-36 after a three-pointer by Morales. Pojoaque started to create turnovers and scored on fast breaks. Ashten Martinez had a pair of baskets driving from the high post.
Pojoaque put together an12-1 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to take a 48-38 lead in the fourth quarter. That’s when Los Alamos put together its almost unbelievable 17-0 run to finish the game.
Even Coach Carter seemed somewhat overwhelmed and at a loss for words after this big win. In his first season at Los Alamos but a veteran coach who has seen duty at Capital High School, Pojoaque, Santa Fe Indian School and Santa Fe High School, he took over a team that had compiled a combined 12-42 record over the last two seasons.
“I’m starting to believe our own words,” Coach Carter said. “These kids are talented. With the depth we have at all positions and the size we have and the speedof that size, I’m starting to believe it. We’re proving we can play at this level.”
Los Alamos will have a tough time repeating its run when they face the same teams one more time in District 2-4A competition. They will surprise no one now. `They will have to go on the road Friday to face a Moriarty team that took them to overtime the last time they played.
“We don’t want to say anything yet, because we still have to play all these teams again,” Gonzales said.
Los Alamos is now the team to beat in District 2-4A.
“I’d rather have the target on our backs than not have it at all,” Coach Carter said. “We have to come into our practices with the mindset we are going to get better because the other teams are going to get better, too.”
Janee Montoya shoots for 3, she hit three, 3 pointers for nine points for the night. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Becca Green was heavily guarded all night, but managed to score 16 points to be the leading scorer for the game. She is guarded by Ashley Martinez and Alicia Sanchez. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Mattie Ruminer takes a shot for 2 points in the second quarter. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Becca Green battles for the ball with Ashten Martinez under the Topper basket. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Natalie Gallegos goes for a 3 pointer; she made three 3 pointers throughout the game. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
Alex Calderon shoots two free throws in the closing minutes of the game to put the game out-of-reach for the Elkettes. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com