Los Alamos beats Pojoaque Valley, has sole possession of district lead
From worst to …
Lanse Carter, Los Alamos’ head girls basketball coach, wasn’t about to take the bait Tuesday night. While he saw how far the Lady Hilltoppers have come in less than a year under his guidance, Carter also knew the path to a District 2-4A title has plenty of hazards and potential detours. Not to mention that Los Alamos was now in uncharted territory after a closing 17-0 run capped with a 55-48 win over Pojoaque Valley in a battle of undefeated district teams in Ben Luján Gymnasium.
With the win, a program that had just two district wins in the past two seasons had doubled that amount and moved into sole possession of first place. With that comes weighty expectations and a new role — the hunted instead of the hunter.
“I’d rather have the target on our back than not have it at all,” said Carter, the first year head coach of the Lady Hilltoppers. “We have to come into our practices with intensity and with the mindset that we are going to get better. Because the teams around us are going to get better, too.”
Oh, but the thought of a program that went back-to-back seasons in the cellar completing a worst-to-first performance is tantalizing.
“This is great,” sophomore forward Michaela Gonzales said. “We’ve improved a lot from last year. We’re a really young team, so I think this really brightens up our future. We don’t want to say anything yet, because we still have to play all these teams again. But it’s a big milestone.”
It was bigger than the 10-point deficit the Lady Hilltoppers (10-12 overall, 4-0 in 2-4A) faced after Camille Cordova hit a free throw at the 5:44 mark for a 48-38 margin. Los Alamos was in the throes of a 2-for-10 shooting stretch as Pojoaque extended its halfcourt zone defense that put more pressure on the Lady Hilltoppers’ guards and forced eight turnovers in an 8-minute stretch.
So, Carter decided to turn the tables on the Elkettes (18-4, 3-1) by doing the same thing by running a halfcourt trap. The defense sped up Pojoaque and led to poor decision both in passing the ball and taking shots. After Cordova’s free throw, Pojoaque went 0-for-9 from the field and had five turnovers.
“We got the ball down to where we wanted,” Elkettes head coach Seledon Martinez said. “What hurt us was we made passes that we didn’t catch when we were wide open. Then, we had shots go in an out.”
With every possession, Los Alamos methodically worked its way back into the game. Five-foot-11 sophomore post Becca Green had four points in a 90-second span, coupled with a putback by Natalie Gallegos to trim the margin to 48-44. Then, Alex Calderon knocked down the Lady Hilltoppers’ eight 3-pointer of the game — a rainbow over Pojoaque’s 5-11 post Ashten Martinez that trimmed the deficit to just 48-47.
All of that allowed Gonzales to put the finishing touches on the comeback. Her putback on a Calderon miss with 2:17 left made it 49-48. She then hauled in a rebound, made the outlet pass from Calderon and got the ball back to finish off the breakaway with a layup for a 51-48 Los Alamos lead at the 1:20 mark.
“We’ve been down before, so we’ve been working on staying composed,” Gonzales said. “We say on our team, ‘Value the possession,’ meaning the more times we have the ball, the more times they don’t have it.”
Meanwhile, the Elkettes started to fire up 3s on their final three possessions and only one of them hit iron. Even though Pojoaque forced 23 Los Alamos turnovers to its own 13, an 18-for-48 performance from the field undid a solid defensive performance.
“We’re a better ball-handling team than we showed in that fourth quarter,” Martinez said. “We’ve been stressing the passes for four years, especially meet the ball. But if we back up to the beginning of the game, the mistakes we made back then started adding up.”
They added up to a resounding victory for the Lady Hilltoppers. And they found a new member on their bandwagon — their own head coach.
“I’m finally starting to believe my own words,” Carter said with a chuckle. “These kids are talented, with the depth that we have at all positions and the size we have and the speed of that size. Once these kids start playing together in the fashion that they are, I’m starting to believe it. I really am. I think we can compete.”