KC overcomes midseason slump to peak at right time
KIRTLAND — A little more than a month ago, the Kirtland Central boys basketball team could have let its slump derail its season. But the Broncos weren't having any of that.
They vowed to remind the other teams in Class 5A that they're among the elites and that they had their eye on the coveted blue trophy.
Two games behind Gallup for the District 1-5A regular-season title entering last week, Kirtland forced and later won Monday's tiebreaker game to clinch the district championship — which KC hopes is the just the start of what's to come.
"This district title will let everybody know that we're ready and we're coming," senior point guard Jariah Setzer said. "We're starting to be a lot smarter with the ball, pushing it ahead and finishing a lot better. We're starting to communicate well (on defense), starting to have our hands up."
Monday's victory was a climactic moment in what's been an emotional journey for the Broncos (18-9).
After starting the year 7-1, KC struggled to open and close games strong.
"When you go through those slumps, there can be a lot of finger pointing," coach Brian Dowdy said.
Frustrations mounted, and then came a game on Jan. 11 at Piedra Vista.
Kirtland was up 48-35 late in the third quarter but lost 72-71 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Dropping to 8-7, that game turned out to be KC's turning point. In that moment, the Broncos knew they had to start tearing it up on the floor to stay in the 5A state championship conversation.
"That put us in the mindset where we have to control things, that we have to go to work and dominate," Setzer said.
And they've been doing just that, winning 10 of 12 games since that devastating night at PV.
"It makes us cherish this moment a lot more," senior center Nathan Enoah said. "(We have) so much confidence going into state now. We do believe that (winning district) is going to motivate us more to keep going forward."
The Broncos, who will host Farmington in the District 1-5A tournament semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday, have reminded their competition of the expectations they set for themselves: blue trophy or bust.
"We're glad we had our bumps before February and March, for sure. That moment (losing at PV), they realized we were in jeopardy of throwing away something special," Dowdy said. "We still believe we have something special."
Strong rebounding sets up key Broncos scoring chances in second half against Gallup Monday at Shiprock High.
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.