In a battle of two of the premier big men in 4A basketball, Nic Stafford led No. 2 St. Pius past Christian Mackey and Kirtland Central.
Stafford scored 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting as the Sartans defeated the Broncos 59-41 Saturday in Kirtland.
The Broncos hung tough with St. Pius (12-4) for three quarters, entering the fourth trailing 43-37, but the Sartans used a 16-4 run in the final quarter to put away Kirtland.
"We weren't hitting our shots and were getting pushed around a lot," Mackey said of the fourth quarter struggles.
Turnovers plagued the Broncos (8-12) throughout the contest. Kirtland committed 24 in the game to just seven for the Sartans.
"They get on you," said Kirtland head coach John Zecca. "They're sticky. They try to deny really hard, and if you don't work hard on offense, then they are going to get steals. Those kids play hard, there is no doubt about it. That's why they're the No. 2 team in the state."
Mackey had a solid game in the paint for the Broncos, scoring a team high 18 points.
"It was a lot of fun to watch," said Sartans' head coach Damian Segura on the battle in the paint between Mackey and Stafford. "Those are two high-level post players regardless of classification. They get after it. Mackey is a truck. Stafford is a senior so we're going to have to rent a truck to go after him next year.
Neither team was able to gain control in the first half as the Sartans took a 29-25 lead into the locker room.
"I wasn't happy at halftime even though it was a four-point game," Zecca said. "We were letting them push us around, and we weren't pushing back. We have to be tougher than that."
Both teams struggled from 3-point range with the Broncos going 2-for-10 and the Sartans hitting 2-for-14.
Kirtland will now set its sights on the district season, which begins next Saturday against Farmington.
"Farmington has the same mentality as St. Pius — they get after it," Zecca said. "They don't have quite the personnel that Pius has, but they play with a lot of effort. If we don't match that effort then we could have some bad results."
In the girls' matchup, No. 6 St. Pius defeated the Lady Broncos 45-29.
The Lady Sartans were ahead by double-digits most of the second half after taking a 20-10 lead into the halftime break.
Despite the loss, Lady Broncos' head coach Kevin Holman is seeing some improvement in his side after Kirtland lost to St. Pius 67-33 at the Gallup tournament on Dec. 7.
"We just played harder," Holman said. "They're a good team. The whipped us in Gallup, but I figured we could play them tough, and the girls did. We had rebounding problems, but we're a small group. We got to block out better, but I thought the girls' effort was outstanding — make a few more shots and free throws and we're right there."
Kirtland struggled with its shooting throughout the game hitting just 12-for-36 from the field and 4-for-13 from the line.
Taylor Billey scored a game-high 16 points for the Lady Broncos a day after scoring 30 against Wingate.
Natalie Zamora hit a pair of 3-pointers on her way to 15 points to lead the Lady Sartans.
The Lady Broncos will start their district schedule on Friday with a home game against Farmington.
Billey is ready to finally begin the district season.
"It's getting to be crunch time," she said. "We're excited to get going with district. We need to work on our rebounding, but I'm confident my team will step it up."