KIRTLAND — After missing the playoffs a season ago, the Kirtland Central boys basketball team is heading back to The Pit.
The No. 5 Broncos defeated a shorthanded No. 12 Artesia squad 80-67 in the first round of the 4A playoffs on Saturday at Bronco Arena.
The Bulldogs (12-16) sat out three of their five starters, including two of their top three scorers, for disciplinary reasons, and KCHS (20-6) took advantage.
"I feel bad because they had some discipline issues last night, and I don't like winning that way," KCHS head coach John Zecca said. "They had a hard time, and we kept feeding the monster."
That monster, Christian Mackey, led the way for the Broncos with a huge game, scoring 34 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in the victory.
"It's an amazing feeling," Mackey said. "I played my heart out."
Mackey took advantage of the smaller Bulldog defenders, hitting 12-of-18 from the field and 10-of-13 from the free-throw line.
"I felt we gave Kirtland all they could handle," Artesia head coach Isidro Montoya said. "The kid we had on (Mackey) was 5'11", and he worked his butt off for us. We tried to use as many kids against him as we could, but it didn't pan out."
Reese Foutz stepped up to aid Mackey with the scoring load, adding 18 point on 6-of-14 shooting.
Zecca was even more impressed with Foutz's defense on Artesia's leading scorer, Deion Wesson.
"Reese's biggest contribution tonight was his defense," Zecca said. "(Wesson) is an awesome shooter. We watched three game on him, and he didn't miss much. He can really shoot the basketball."
Wesson finished with 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but went 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
"Coach always tells us to turn their shooters into drivers, so that's what I was trying to do," Foutz said.
KCHS jumped out to an 18-10 lead in the first quarter thanks to Bud Willie, who scored 8 of his 13 points in the opening eight minutes.
Artesia finished the quarter on an 8-0 run, however, to tie the game at 18 heading into the second.
Mackey found his groove around the basket in the second quarter, scoring 11 points and helping the Broncos take a 39-33 lead into halftime.
Artesia battled back in the third quarter to take a 50-49 lead after Denzyl Garcia scored 10 of his team-high 22 points in the quarter.
Junior Smith answered a pair of 3-pointers to give KCHS a 55-50 lead, and the Broncos led the rest of the way, eventually pulling away late in the fourth quarter.
"It was scary. We weren't playing well and took some quick shots," Zecca said. "(Smith) knocked them down and that was a huge lift."
Smith finished with 11 points after making three of the Broncos' four 3-pointers.
Kirtland Central will advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012 and play No. 4 Centennial at The Pit on Wednesday after the Hawks blew out Piedra Vista 74-32 in their first round game.
"Our main goal was to get to The Pit," Zecca said. "Luckily, I had a friend down there watching PV, and he'll have some information for me (on Centennial), which will be valuable. We've got two days to prepare."Joshua Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.