McCurdy's Andres Martinez drives down the lane and Newcomb's Shannon Bitsilly tries to block his shot in the Skyhawks' 55-41 victory over the Bobcats in the Class 2A quarterfinals March 13 at the Santa Ana Star Center.
By George Morse
McCurdy Charter School’s run in the Class 2A state basketball tournament came to an end March 13 in the quarterfinals at the Santa Ana Star Center. The Newcomb High School Skyhawks defeated McCurdy 55-41 to end the Bobcats season. After turning in one of their best games of the season when they defeated long-time rival Escalante High School 63-38 in the opening round of the state tournament March 9 at McCurdy, the Bobcats struggled to establish any kind of rhythm against the Skyhawks.
“We didn’t let the game come to us,” McCurdy Coach Ernesto Espinoza said. “It seemed like it was us trying to find that perfect shot. We knew they were an aggressive team and they were swarming inside, taking that away.”
Newcomb took control of the game in the first half behind a swarming defense that forced 14 turnovers. The Skyhawks showed why they have “relentless” printed on their basketball jerseys. The Bobcats hit just 4-of-20 shots from the floor and were just 1-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc.
A key turning point in the game came in the closing seconds of the first quarter when Newcomb’s Shannon Bitsilly was fouled on a three-point attempt just before the buzzer. Bitsilly nailed all three of his free throws to give the Skyhawks a 15-7 lead.
Despite a slow start to the second quarter by the Skyhawks , who scored just one point in the first four minutes, McCurdy didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. A fast break layup by Andres Martinez made the score 16-9 in favor of the Skyhawks. McCurdy then forced a turnover with a five-second call on an inbounds play. Raul Arroyo hit 1-of-2 free throws and the Bobcats missed the front end of a 1-plus-1 opportunity. A free throw by Kemmer Croff finished off a four-point run by the Bobcats that made the score 16-11 midway through the second quarter.
Bitsilly got the Skyhawks going again with a steal and layup, drawing a foul. The old-fashioned, three-point play started an 8-0 run by Newcomb that made the score 24-11 with a minute-and-a-half left in the first half. The Skyhawks maintained that 13-point lead 28-15 at the end of the second quarter.
McCurdy’s frontcourt of Ubaldo Barela, Jacob Martinez and Croff was held to just one point in the first half. The Skyhawks shot a much better percentage from the floor than the Bobcats, hitting 10 of their 23 shots in the first half. Newcomb didn’t sink a three-pointer, but was 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Bitsilly had 15 points in the first half.
In the third quarter, the Bobcats finally put double digits on the scoreboard, tallying 12 points. Newcomb made a couple of three-pointers courtesy of Deontay Begay and extended their lead to 42-27 on Begay’s second trey at the end of the third quarter. McCurdy shot a much better 5-of-9 from the floor, but was just 1-of-6 from the free-throw line.
McCurdy stubbornly kept trying to comeback in the fourth quarter, but were never able to make up for that slow start and still had another 13 turnovers in the second half that kept killing any chance establishing momentum in the Bobcats favor. After Newcomb took a 47-29 lead, the Bobcats made one last desperate attempt to comeback and had a 9-0 run that cut the Skyhawks’ lead in half. That run fizzled out and Newcomb held on for a 55-41 victory to advance to the semifinals.
Neither team had a good game shooting the ball. McCurdy did improve in the second half, sinking 11-of-26 shots and finishing the game shooting 32.6 percent from the floor. The Skyhawks were a little bit better, making 20 of their 55 shots for a 36.4 percentage. The Bobcats were just 7-of-18 from the free –throw line, while the Skyhawks finished 13-of-20 from the charity stripe. Newcomb made just two of 18 attempts from beyond the three-point arc, while the Bobcats took just as many long-range shots, sinking four of them.
The telling statistic was the number of turnovers. McCurdy gave the ball back to Newcomb 26 times. The majority of the turnovers were steals by the Skyhawks. Newcomb took the ball away from the Bobcats 21 times.
Bitsilly led all scorers with 20 points. Begay finished with 11 points for the Skyhawks and Deion Johnhat added 10 points for Newcomb. Andres Martinez came off the bench to lead McCurdy with 12 points. Ernesto Martinez had 10 points for the Bobcats. The only battle that McCurdy won was on the boards, where they gathered in 44 caroms to 33 for Newcomb.
It had been a totally different story in McCurdy’s victory over Escalante, where the Bobcats led from start to finish. After a very slow and nervous first quarter that ended with McCurdy leading just 6-2, the game heated up in the second quarter for the Bobcats. McCurdy was the team forcing the turnovers and the Bobcats began to pour in the buckets from all over the floor. Ernesto Martinez got hot from beyond the three-point arc and dropped in three long-range bombs in the second quarter. McCurdy at one point led 24-10. Escalante’s Randy Ferrell banked in a three-pointer just before halftime to make the score 27-17 in favor of McCurdy.
Barela took over in the second half, scoring 15 of his game-high 23 points. Martinez continued his hot outside shooting and hit three more three-pointers to finish with 22 points. The Bobcats led 44-29 at the end of the third quarter and ran away from the tired-out Lobos in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 points to just nine for Escalante. McCurdy has been able to go nine deep all season and that depth has enabled them to put in players with fresh legs.
So despite the disappointing end to their season, the eight seniors on McCurdy’s team can be proud of what they accomplished. McCurdy won its first state tournament game since 2013 and hosted its first state tournament game since 2004. The Bobcats finished the year 23-6 overall.
“I told them to keep their heads up,” Coach Espinoza said. “Being able to play at home and feel the energy from the home crowd. This year was big for our school, our community and our program.”
McCurdy's Jacob Martinez reaches over a Skyhawk player to grab a rebound. McCurdy's Ernesto Martinez takes aim on a three-pointer that he would sink to make the score 17-8 in favor of the Bobcats. He would sink six three-pointers and score 22 points in McCurdy's 63-38 victory over Escalante High School March 9 in the opening round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament at McCurdy. McCurdy's Kemmer Croff puts up a shot against Escalante. McCurdy's Josh Esquibel fights for position for a rebound with Escalante's Anthony Ulibarri.