KIRTLAND — In his final game at Bronco Arena, Christian Mackey put together one of the most dominant performances of his career.
The Kirtland Central High School senior matched a career-high with 34 points and grabbed 20 rebounds to defeat Artesia in the first-round of the 4A state basketball playoffs and send the Broncos to quarterfinals for the first time since his sophomore season.
"It was amazing to finish out that strong in front of our home fans," said Mackey, who made 12-of-18 field goal attempts in the 80-67 victory. "I'm thankful to coach (John) Zecca for letting me go on this journey with him over the past three seasons. We made a lot of good memories on this court."
The most important thing about the victory for Mackey is that he will share the experience of postseason basketball at The Pit with this group of teammates.
Of the eight Bronco seniors, Mackey was one of two who played the last time KCHS was in playoffs in 2012. Senior Junior Smith was also a member of the playoff team that year.
"It's a great feeling once you get on that court," Mackey said. "The adrenaline is rushing and just the feel of going up and down the steep ramp at The Pit. It just gets you going. They've been looking forward to it and so have I."
During the past three seasons, Zecca has seen his star forward work to improve all aspects of his game, noting that Mackey's shooting and ball-handling abilities have taken the biggest leap forward.
"He's developed his perimeter game," Zecca said of Mackey, who has made 38 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. "This year, he's been driving to the basket and just getting the ball and taking it up the floor more."
Mackey was, by far, the most dominant player in District 1-4A this season, averaging just over 21 points and 11 rebounds per game during the regular season, but more important than the stats and the victories was the camaraderie he built with his teammates on and off the court.
"We all love each other over here. We're brothers and we're all working together to accomplish the same goal," he said.
Zecca recognized early in Mackey's career that he'd eventually become the leader of the Broncos.
"He's always had that quality. Even as a sophomore, you could tell he had that leadership quality," Zecca said. "He didn't show it as much because he was just a sophomore and he let those senior kids take that spot. Last year, as a junior, he was by far the team leader and this year too without a doubt. He's just a natural leader, not just in basketball, but around the school. He's involved in things aside from athletics. He helps out the incoming freshmen and shows them what high school is all about."
Mackey knows his Broncos' career is winding down as the team prepares for Wednesday's playoff matchup with No. 4 Centennial.
"The last couple of games have been very emotional for me. I'm treating every game like it's my last," he said.
No matter how the tournament plays out for the Broncos this week, Mackey said he'll have many fond memories of his time playing for Kirtland Central.
"I'll just remember winning district that sophomore and senior year and getting to dunk that nice cold water on coach Zecca," he said.Joshua Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.