Grinning after a 31-point home win Monday night, Kirtland Central boys basketball head coach Brian Dowdy had no explanation for a sizable spirit squad stretching baseline to baseline along the sideline opposite the teams’ bench areas upon a Don Cluff Court suddenly more claustrophobic to his Broncos’ enemies.
“I have no idea where they came from,” Dowdy joked. “Glad we had them, though.”
Reflective of a week away from practice, visiting Bayfield failed to produce as many points in their season-opening showing as Kirtland Central boasted cheerleaders (27) until just 3:29 remained in the game – via a play.
Finding himself behind the top of the 3-point arc, junior forward Quinton Hunter put the ball on the floor and took two threatening steps toward the foul line. Drawing a Central double team he likely expected, Hunter calmly whipped a waist-high no-look pass to junior Brecken Espinosa, cutting in backdoor off the left wing for an unguarded layup.
Unfortunately, the highlight-reel moment failed to spawn sequels save for sophomore Isaac Ross’ 3-pointer immediately offset by a Bronco triple at the other end, as the 57-27 deficit regrew to 67-36 before the final buzzer.
“It was just a tough game overall. A game on a Monday after (Thanksgiving) break, and it showed out there to me,” said Bayfield head coach Klint Chandler. “I told ’em at halftime, we probably had more turnovers than we had points. We just turned the ball over too much.”
The good thing is, there’s plenty of time for the boys to catch up to themselves.
“Most are juniors and sophomores. I’ve only got one senior on this team, so we’re young,” Chandler said, already having put the outcome in his rear-view mirror and zoning in upon weekend contests quickly approaching.
And the players know neither opponent will be any less challenging than a Kirtland crew clearly eager to improve upon last winter’s 5-21 overall record and fifth-place standing in NMAA District 1-4A.
Traveling north to Denver for Kent Denver’s 10th Annual Herman Schayes Memorial, Bayfield (0-1) will first face the hosting Sun Devils (0-0) inside Yates Pavilion at 7 p.m. Friday. Sixteen-point winners over the Wolverines last season, Kent Denver went on to finish 18-6 overall following a six-point loss to Denver Science & Tech Montview in the Class 3A State Tournament’s Sweet 16.
Day 2 will see BHS battle The Pinnacle at 11 a.m. Saturday with the Timberwolves initially entering their Day 1 test standing 0-1 after losing 51-47 Tuesday night at Alameda. Now under a second coach in as many seasons following longtime leader Lou Vullo’s departure for Golden, The Pinnacle ended up just 2-18 overall last year, a figure which could be either quite indicative of the resistance Bayfield might face or as misleading as Kirtland Central’s aforementioned mark.
Regardless, the Wolverines know the onus for any possible success rests upon their shoulders.
“Focus in practices is a lot. We need to swing (the ball), and we need to talk more,” Hunter said. “Our team has been working together for a while, but we just don’t have the communication down yet.”
“Ball security’s a big thing,” Ross added. “And we’ve got to box out. We really don’t have the height, so we’ve got to box out and get the rebounds we need.”
Bayfield shot 4-of-14 from the free-throw line against Kirtland Central, with Hunter going 2-of-8. He finished with only two fouls, but junior guard Crosby Edwards and junior forward Zack McSweeney each were slowed by four. Eleven different Broncos scored in the game, with 10 of those booking at least four points. Comparatively, eight Wolverines scored. Ross totaled seven points, closest to Hunter’s team high.
“I wasn’t expecting to play on the varsity,” said Ross, “but it was nice to get in, get that experience for later games.”