Kirtland boys' season ends in 4A quarterfinals at Española Valley

Will Webber, Santa Fe New Mexican
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ESPAÑOLA — A brutal year filled with countless ups and downs, delays and anxious moments came to an end Tuesday night for the Kirtland Central boys basketball team.

The No. 5 seed in the Class 4A state tournament, the Broncos (10-2) were eliminated with a 62-40 loss at No. 4 Española Valley in the quarterfinals. 

The Sundevils (10-3) never trailed thanks to a dominating night on the glass, outrebounding the Broncos 44-27 while forcing 20 turnovers and holding foul-plagued Kirtland to 29% shooting.

And yet, not much of that mattered to Broncos coach Brian Dowdy.

The last person to emerge from the postgame locker room, Dowdy couldn’t hide the emotional toll the season took on him and his players. The Broncos avoided the COVID-19 shutdowns, but they certainly weren’t immune to the constant strain it put on everyone’s mental health

“We were grateful to play,” he said as his voice cracked. 

After pausing to gather himself, he spoke about the demands put on his team in what will forever be remembered as a weird season of surgical masks, social distancing and uncertainty about ever getting a chance to play.

“I don’t know how they did it,” Dowdy said of his players. “Our district had three games a week and we’re getting home from Gallup at 1 o’clock in the morning only to get up the next day for school, then have a game the following night somewhere else. I’m just worn out, myself. I don’t know how the players do it. I love being out here and I love doing it, but it was my most challenging season by far.”

Despite making it a one-possession game three separate times in the second quarter, Kirtland got into foul trouble.

Jaxon Manning was held to three points and seven rebounds, while Cameron Crawford fouled out with more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Once the fouls started becoming an issue we probably forced some shots and it kind of got away from us,” Dowdy said.

The start of the end came in the waning moments of the third quarter, when Sundevils guard Garrett May drained a pair of 3-pointers, the second of which was a 30-foot buzzer-beater to open a 44-34 lead.

Crawford’s fifth foul came in the early moments of the fourth quarter after he opened the period with two straight buckets to get the Broncos back within six.

With Crawford out, Espanola promptly went on a decisive 11-0 run. The Broncos didn’t make a single field goal after Crawford’s exit, getting their final two points from a pair of Elijah Jenks free throws with four minutes left.

Crawford was the only Kirtland Central player in double digits with 20 points. Jenks had five, as did Satchel Hogue.

Bottom line, said Espanola coach Gabriel Martinez, there’s something to be said about playing at home this late in the season.

“With all the stuff that’s gone on, just to play in our own gym in front of the fans that live for this sort of thing is what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s not easy for teams to come in here. I mean, I know we don’t have a full sellout or anything, but it’s still our fans and they know when to make noise.”

Espanola (10-3) will face top-seeded Del Norte in Thursday’s 4A semifinals.

Will Webber covers sports for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He can be reached at 505-986-3060, and on Twitter at @SportsScribe505.

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