McCurdy gets crucial district win over Monte del Sol
ESPAÑOLA — Kemmer Croff has spent most of the season trying to rediscover his role with the McCurdy Bobcats.
He found it Thursday night.
The 6-foot-1 senior post teamed up with fellow frontcourt teammate Ubaldo Barela to form an almost unstoppable inside combination against Monte del Sol in a crucial District 2-2A game in Memorial Gymnasium. They combined for 30 points and 25 rebounds as the Bobcats won 69-59 in a battle of undefeated district teams.
Croff exploded for 18 points and 12 rebounds, as he kept attacking the glass for second and sometimes third chances. It was a flash of the player he was last season, when he averaged 13.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a junior. While he was averaging more than eight boards a game this year, his scoring average hovered around nine points as Barela established himself as the primary low-post option.
“I think it was that we had some new guys on the team,” McCurdy head coach Ernesto Espinosa said. “Different roles with different guys, and I think he was trying to fit in with those other guys.”
His role against the Dragons, though, was simple — get into the paint and attack. That was especially true in the second quarter, as Croff went off for 10 points and six rebounds to help turn an early 19-14 deficit into a decisive 33-25 lead with his scoop layup with 55 seconds left in the first half.
“I just trust my coach and whatever game plan he has set for us,” Kroff said. “That’s how I look at it. I feel comfortable with what he has to offer our whole program.”
Croff and the Bobcats can’t argue with the results, as they sit at 18-5 overall and 5-0 in the district with three games left. They set a goal at the beginning of the season to earn a home game for the Class 2A State Tournament, which has eluded them the last three years.
Heading into the game against Monte del Sol, McCurdy sat at No. 8 in the MaxPreps.com Freeman rankings that help select and seed teams. Meanwhile, the Dragons (16-9, 5-1) were 16th, which meant a loss could put a serious dent in their dream.
“I wanna host a game; I wanna host a game at state,” Croff said. “I don’t want to travel.”
The rest of the Bobcats followed suit, as they overwhelmed Monte del Sol on the glass to the tune of 30 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 19 points. Their ability to get second and third chances helped them overcome a 21-for-66 performance from the field.
The in-bulk shooting in the paint was a nice luxury, but McCurdy struggled at times to turn those opportunities into points.
“It’s hard sometimes, because you get those inside looks and that’s start putting more [defensive] pressure on the inside,” Barela said. “We have to do a better job of facilitating the ball.”
Monte del Sol never got a handle in denying those extra looks until the fourth quarter when head coach Alfredo Lujan started to send all five players to attack the glass. That limited the Bobcats to just two offensive rebounds, and the Dragons used a 6-0 run to open the quarter to get within 52-46 when Santi Archuleta scored off the glass with 5:46 left.
The spurt occurred with senior wing Peter Lujan on the floor, but he was saddled with four fouls that kept him nailed to the bench for most of the game. His scoring and hustle were missed, as the Dragons struggled at times to run their offense.
However, he fouled out 56 seconds later, then exacerbated the problem by taking off his uniform as he walked off the court and incurring a technical foul in the process. Croff hit the two free throws for 54-46, then Raul Arroyo followed with a three-point play to make it 57-46 with 4:22 left.
“We are just going to work on boxing out,” Archuleta said. “They had a load of offensive rebounds. I feel that if we can cut that down we can definitely contend a lot better.”
Barring any surprises over the next six days, the teams will face off one more time Feb. 20 at the wellness center of the Institute for American Indian Art. Monte del Sol needs a win to force a playoff for the top seed in the district tournament, while the Bobcats can crystallize their goal of staying at home for the opening round of the state tournament come March.
“If don’t take care of business, we don’t get that locked-in seed,” Martinez said. “Everything we do, we have to take seriously. We can’t have any letdowns.”