With the District 2-2A regular season championship and the No. 1 seed for the district tournament on the line, the McCurdy Charter School boys basketball team’s defense answered the call.
The Bobcats (20-5, 7-0) used their rebounding advantage to clip Monte Del Sol Charter School 69-59 at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 14, but this time, McCurdy rode a defensive surge to run away from the Dragons, 75-54, Feb. 20 at the Institute for American Indian Arts.
“Our defense (was the biggest factor),” McCurdy head coach Ernesto Espinoza said. “Our guys came out and kept the pressure on them for four quarters. That helped us start our run.”
The game appeared to be even-keeled — like a game for first place would be expected — after the first quarter, with McCurdy leading 13-11.
That trend continued for the early stages of the second, then with three minutes until the half, McCurdy rode the advantage of a 12-4 run to separate to a 37-21 halftime lead.
After Josh Esquibel started the run with a layup in transition after one of the team’s nine steals on the night, Ernesto Martinez followed suit with two high-flying layups, including one after another Dragons’ turnover with 12 seconds left in the half to gather the 16-point advantage at the break.
“That was good because we got some big momentum going into halftime,” McCurdy senior Ubaldo Barela — who had a game-high 22 points — said. “That was crucial, because when you get that momentum going into halftime, the second half becomes a little easier.”
Barela opened the second half with two consecutive buckets in the paint to stretch the lead to 41-21 to force Monte Del Sol head coach Alfredo Lujan into a timeout.
The Bobcats took a 52-30 lead into the fourth quarter and outscored the Dragons 38-33 in the second half to hold the big lead they earned in the crucial second quarter.
McCurdy pulled down 24 offensive rebound in the Feb. 14 meeting, compared to 11 this time. However, the team also shot a better percentage around the rim in the second matchup, erasing more possible second-chance opportunities.
Kemmer Croff had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, Raul Arroyo and Martinez (three steals) both scored 10 points and Esquibel and Andres Martinez chipped in six points apiece.
“We were making our inside shots today and that was a big reason why I don’t think the offensive rebounds were as high tonight,” Espinoza said. “Tonight, we made a lot of shots around the rim and like I said, ‘Hats off to our guys who played really, really good defense.’”
The Bobcats (21-5, 8-0) cruised to a 78-23 victory over the Academy for the Technology and the Classics Feb. 23 to finish undefeated in the district and will have a bye in the district tournament until they host the championship Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium.
If the results in the district tournament mirror the regular season, McCurdy and Monte Del Sol could be on a collision course for a fourth meeting of the season. The Bobcats have won all three games, including an early season tournament matchup at the Bean Valley Tournament in Estancia on Jan. 11.
“I imagine we’ll probably see these guys again (in the championship),” Barela said. “It’ll be the fourth time we’ve played them and they’ll come with a gameplan and ready to beat us, so we gotta be ready.”