Last year’s version of the McCurdy Charter School boys basketball team learned how hard it is to play on the road in an opposing team’s gym in the first round of the state tournament.
The Bobcats of 2017-2018 lost at Tularosa Rosa High School, 61-57, but the 2018-2019 squad did not disappoint a sold-out crowd at Memorial Gymnasium on March 9, and pulled away from Escalante High School in the second half for a 63-38 win.
“It’s a big difference because we played last year on the road in a similar crowd,” McCurdy head coach Ernesto Espinoza said. “It wasn’t our home crowd, so I mean at the end when you need that boost or the other team starts to make a run, I think being at home with that familiarity helps you.”
With the win, the Bobcats (23-5) advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013, and they will pit their wits against third-seeded Newcomb High School at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday (3/13) at the Santa Ana Star Center. Newcomb defeated Tse Yi’ Gai High School 67-43 in the first round, also on March 9.
The Skyhawks (27-2) like to run and run fast, and that was just the method of execution that McCurdy used to pull away from the 11th-seeded Lobos.
After a slow start and just a 6-2 lead after a quarter, the Bobcats legs began to bounce and McCurdy upped the tempo and pushed their lead to 27-17 at halftime, which could have been a 13-point advantage if it weren’t for a last-second bank-in 3-pointer by Escalante’s Randy Ferrell.
The Bobcats outscored the Lobos 36-21 in the second half and they were carried by a game-high 23 points from Ubaldo Barela, who also pulled down eight rebounds and shot a perfect 9-of-9 from the charity stripe. The Bobcats controlled the glass as well by snatching 36 rebounds in all.
“A couple things jumped out: a dismal shooting performance and rebounding, obviously,” Escalante head coach Henry Gettler said. “We had 17 initial touches on a rebound and then fumbled it or McCurdy took it away. That was an extra 17 possessions McCurdy had and they made us pay for it.”
Bobcat senior Ernesto Martinez made seven field goals on the night, with six of them coming from beyond the 3-point arc. He would finish with 22 points, while Josh Esquibel pitched in seven and Andres Martinez had six.
“The atmosphere of the game and the people, that’s what I think had to do with that first half, because a lot of shots were falling short,” Espinoza said. “The second half, like I said, I think our depth (helped us pull away). We were able to keep running, pushing it up and I think our guys just hit some big shots there at the end. It helps when Ernesto goes and hits six 3-pointers, that definitely helped us.”
The Lobos struggled to get anything going for a majority of the first half, and it wasn’t until 3:15 remaining in the second quarter that Dakotah Gonzales finally scored the first points from the field, as their first six points had all come from the free throw line.
Ferrell scored six of his seven in the second quarter and Anthony Ulibarri scored five of his team-high 13 points in that same eight minutes to keep Escalante within striking distance, but Barela came alive in the second half for McCurdy by scoring 15 points and Martinez drilled 3 triples to match the number he knocked down in the first half.
“McCurdy’s style has sustainability come tourney time,” Gettler said. “They can defend without fouling, have solid shooting inside and out, they’re tough to press because they can overthrow the press and the most important thing, they can flat out rebound and limit your opportunities at the rim.”
Newcomb is riding a 14-game winning streak and hasn’t lost since falling 57-49 to Santa Rosa back on Jan. 19. Santa Rosa is seeded second and plays No. 7 Mesilla Valley Christian for the right to advance to battle the McCurdy-Newcomb winner in the semifinals at 11:30 a.m., Friday at Dreamstyle Arena-The Pit.
“I don’t know a lot about Newcomb right now,” Espinoza said on March 10. “I saw them last year and I don’t think they lost a lot from last year. I know they’re fast, I know they can shoot the 3 and like I said, we got our homework cutout for us now to see what we’re going into.”
Newcomb lost only two seniors from last year’s team that lost to Santa Rosa 54-52 in the quarterfinals. The Skyhawks were ranked fourth in the final MaxPreps Freeman Rankings, while McCurdy finished in sixth. Newcomb’s loss to Santa Rosa this season was their only defeat in the state of New Mexico, as the other came against Colorado’s Fruita Monument High School on Jan. 3 in the Aztec Tournament.
As for Escalante, the Lobos finished 20-10 in Gettler’s first season, but were unable to reach the quarterfinals like a season ago.
“We are taking steps forward and these are the things programs must experience in order to move forward,” Gettler said. “I am proud of the senior class and their accomplishments and the community should be proud of them. Let’s us remember, only five teams win their last game in boys basketball. It is very hard to walk away with the blue trophy.”