By George Morse
McCurdy Charter School could legitimately be said to be in a rebuilding year after graduating eight seniors from last season’s team that made it to the Class 2A state quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual state runner up Newcomb High School. It was McCurdy’s best showing at state since the tournament had gone to a 16-team format. Those seniors included five starters for the 23-7 Bobcats, who hosted an opening-round game of the Class 2A state tournament for the first time.
McCurdy Coach Ernesto Espinoza doesn’t see it that way.
“When you say you’re rebuilding, you’re saying you expect to be a good team in like two years,” Espinoza said. “I think we can be a contender again this season.”
Every team needs a place to start and for the Bobcats it will be with junior Andres Martinez and senior Josh Esquibel. They are the two returning players who saw significant playing time on last year’s senior-laden team.
“We need to get everyone playing hard in every game,” Esquibel said. “We need to get in shape, start making shots and play as a team.”
The 6-foot, 4-inch Martinez has an all-around game, shooting from the perimeter and able to score inside. Esquibel came in off the bench last season and gives an all-out effort on both ends of the court. Players who are emerging from last year’s junior varsity are junior Santiago Samora, freshman Markus Martinez and sophomore Marcos Gasca with all seeing action. Seniors Diego Borrego, Nicholas Croff, Diego Delgado and Brian Martinez will also see playing time.
“I’m confident we can make it to state,” Andres Martinez said. “I need to be a leader and build up the confidence for these younger guys.”
Coach Espinoza enters his sixth season with the Bobcats.
“We are still finding out who we are.” Espinoza said. “Find our identity. Who we are and what we want to be as a team.”
McCurdy faced Escalante High School Nov. 30 in its opening game of the season. The Bobcats had defeated Escalante 63-34 in the opening round of the Class 2A boys basketball tournament in March to end the Lobo’2018-2019 season. Escalante got a little payback Nov. 30, beating the Bobcats 77-65 at Escalante.
McCurdy led 16-13 after the first quarter thanks to Samora, who scored 13 points including three three-pointers. The Lobos held Samora scoreless in the second quarter and came back to take a 31-28 lead at halftime.
“In the first half, we did a really good job of playing our system,” Espinoza said. “In the second half, we didn’t do it and it got really ugly really quick.”
Escalante had extended their lead to 52-45 by the end of the third quarter despite 13 points by Andres Martinez.
“In the third quarter, we lost Josh (to fouls),” Espinoza said. “He’s a big part of what we do. That put us back on our heels a little bit.”
Espinoza used every player (eight) still left on his roster in the fourth quarter. Escalante pulled away to a 71-55 lead with two minutes left and the Bobcats couldn’t overcome that advantage. The Lobos put the game away from the free-throw line.
“In the fourth quarter, it became a free-throw contest,” Espinoza said. “Escalante hit their free throws.”
McCurdy couldn’t stop Escalante’s Santiago Rivas, who scored in every quarter and finished with a game-high 28 points. Isaac Archuleta added 13 points for the Lobos, including 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Escalante sank 21-of-35 free throws. Chris Luna had 12 points for the Lobos.
Andres Martinez led McCurdy with 27 points. Samora finished with 19 points, but was scoreless in the second and third quarters. McCurdy sank just 13-of-27 free throws.
“It was the little things that you have to do in varsity games that you don’t have to do in junior varsity games,” Espinoza said. “Little things that you can’t do in varsity games.”