LA returns but cannot overtake the Academy on the road

Ronald Esch is looking for a teammate to pass to in the first half while being closely watched by Andres Rivera. Photo by John McHale /

Owen Geiger and Kane Demers catch a loose ball near the Chargers basket. Photo by John McHale /

Los Alamos Daily Post

Despite playing with a short bench on Tuesday night, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys’ basketball team hung out with the Albuquerque Academy Chargers until their out-of-district competition ended.

Los Alamos, who were following a good part of the course in double digits on Tuesday, closed it twice on several occasions in the second half but were never able to tie the score. The Chargers had a few late free throws to win 54-47 at Albuquerque.

This match was broadcast on the Los Alamos Daily Post YouTube channel.

The Academy, one of Los Alamos’ historic rivals, put in a big defensive performance on Tuesday. The Chargers used a solid man-to-man defense that thwarted the Hilltoppers for most of the night.

Perhaps more importantly, the Chargers also won the rebound battle with flying colors. In height, neither team had a distinct advantage, but the Chargers’ boxing was considerably better and their under-basket performances limited the Hilltoppers to a handful of second chances.

Los Alamos were playing without Mark Cleland, their 6-foot-10 center, against Academy (7-4). Cleland was one of four Hilltoppers taken out of the game before kick-off – Ryan Zeik, Josiah Fresquez and Rick Valdez were the others – and his presence under the basket was sorely missed.

On the defensive end, the Hilltoppers had no answer for Academy’s Kellan Gehres. Gehres hit four 3-pointers in the first half and then made 7 of 8 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter to glean the victory for his team.

He finished with a record 26 points, while teammate Justin Mask, who himself had three 3 points, finished with 11.

Niko Garcia had 16 to lead Los Alamos (8-6), including 9 in the first half. Garcia fouled late in the game when the Hilltoppers were forced to foul to preserve time – many Hilltoppers played much of the game in foul issues, but Garcia, who had no serious problems before the fourth quarter, was the only one to end up making a foul.

Wesley Stanfield may have had his best game of the season on Tuesday night. He finished with 10 points and also contributed four interceptions on the defensive end in an attempt to keep the game close.

Elijah Ortiz scored three 3 points on Tuesday to finish with 9.

Los Alamos trailed by three points after one period and eight at the break, but the Academy looked set to pull away in the third quarter, increasing by 13 points around the halfway point with Los Alamos battling offensively against man-to-man defense.

Garcia had two hits, including a runner with 35 seconds left in the fourth to reduce Charger’s advantage to just 3, but the Hilltoppers would never be able to completely erase the deficit.

Los Alamos have only gone 2-3 in their last five games, but those games included a major upset from former district rival Capital and a tight appeal against Lovington’s high-octane offense.

The Hilltoppers travel to the far west of the state when they face Miyamura on Saturday afternoon in Gallup. They open district 2-4A on January 20 against Moriarty.

Niko Garcia strikes for 2 in the first period, he was the best scorer of the Topper with 16 for the evening. Photo by John McHale /

Santiago Espinosa brought the ball back into the field in the second period and was in a hurry to buy Kellan Gehres. Photo by John McHale /

Wesley Stanfield led the basket ahead of Kellan Gehres in the 3rd period for a 2-point shot. He had one of his best games in defense and scored 10 points for the game. Photo by John McHale /

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