Skyhawks "wreak havoc" to force Bobcats into 26 total turnovers
There was a new wrinkle and emphasis to defensive pressure introduced to the McCurdy Charter School boys basketball team on March 13 at the Santa Ana Star Center.
The Bobcats (23-6) had seen their fair share of tight defensive play, but nothing quite compared to the defensive swarm brought on by Newcomb High School in the Class 2A state quarterfinals.
The Skyhawks wreaked havoc just about everywhere and caused McCurdy mistakes and issues in the backcourt, frontcourt, on the perimeter and down low in the paint. The Bobcats were forced into 26 total turnovers, allowing Newcomb to run away with a 55-41 win to advance to the state semifinals against Mesilla Valley Christian (Newcomb lost to Pecos in the championship).
The success down low come to known by those familiar with the Bobcats this season was disrupted and no one suffered more than Ubaldo Barela — McCurdy’s big man and leading scorer (17.1 points per game) on the season.
Barela didn’t tally his first points of the game until 6:27 remaining in the third quarter, coming after Newcomb had steadily built a 15-7 lead after the first quarter and 28-15 advantage at the break.
“We weren’t dictating our offense and we were less responsive,” McCurdy head coach Ernesto Espinoza said. “Meaning, we weren’t trying to get it inside because they were taking that away, and we didn’t do a good enough job at trying to keep getting it in there. When you’re that type of player (like Barela), you know they’re shading you, they’re going to be fronting you and so, hats off to the other team for doing that.”
Newcomb’s electrifying pressure came in waves early and often, and after beginning the game on a 6-0 run, the Skyhawks upped the lead to 16-7 before McCurdy seemed to be settling in to the lime lights of playing in the Star Center.
The Bobcats quickly got back within 16-11, but then Newcomb’s Shannon Bitsilly intercepted an Ernesto Martinez pass at half-court, then strode down toward his own goal to put home a layup and convert on an and-1 opportunity after being hacked by Raul Arroyo.
The three-point play pushed the Skyhawks' lead to 19-11, in which began a 12-4 run to end the first half in the final 2:52 amid four more McCurdy turnovers. The Bobcats coughed the ball up 14 times in the first half alone.
“We like to wreak havoc, you can say,” Newcomb head coach Dominique Richardson said. “If you hadn’t noticed, it says “relentless” on the back of our jerseys and that’s the mentality that we’ve been using all year. We press all 32 minutes and we want to speed other people up.”
To speed things up is status quo to McCurdy’s normal game plan, but too many uncharacteristic mistakes aside from the turnovers doomed the Bobcats from the opening tip.
McCurdy clunked their way to a 4-of-20 shooting effort in the first half to equal 20 percent from the field and that total would top off at 32.6 percent for the game. Free throws were no better at 7-of-18, while Newcomb shot 13-of-20.
Bitsilly made 8-of-10 from the charity stripe on his own and finished as the high-scorer of the game with 20 points. Deontay Begay pitched in 11 and Deion Johnhat added 10 for the Skyhawks.
“We didn’t really shoot the ball that well, but we made up for it in other aspects of the game,” Richardson said. “We got some key, critical rebounds, got some steals late in the game and what I been pushing them about, it doesn’t look like we shot the ball that well from the free throw line, but that’s probably our best game shooting free throws all season.”
The Skyhawks stretched their biggest lead of the game to 18 points with 6:02 remaining in the fourth quarter. McCurdy kept playing hard and managed to climb back within nine points with 2:38 remaining after a bucket inside by Barela, but it was just their first time trailing by single-digits since the score was 19-11 in Newcomb’s favor in the second quarter.
Sophomore Andres Martinez led the Bobcats with 12 points, Martinez had 10 (scoring five of McCurdy’s seven points in the first quarter) and Barela scored all eight of his points in the second half.
Under Espinoza — who has headed McCurdy since 2014-15 — the Bobcats enjoyed the most wins in a season with 23, and the senior class made up of eight players increased their win total the last two years after finishing with 11 victories apiece their freshman and sophomore years.
“It’s hard to lose like this for them,” Espinoza said. “I’m proud of them and I told them to keep their heads up. There is nothing for them to put their heads down about. The effort they gave and all the accomplishments they had this season and for their career. They’ve accomplished great things for this school and this program.”