During the first five minutes of a contest between the Montezuma-Cortez High School and Mancos High School girls basketball teams on Nov. 30, the ball refused to drop through the basket as neither team scored.
Both teams shook off their early season rust, and during the next 29 minutes put forth spirited efforts that resulted in a 40-28 victory for the Lady Panthers.
While several factors contributed to the M-CHS win, defensive intensity might have been the most significant as the Lady Panthers applied full-court pressure throughout the game and forced numerous turnovers.
During a particularly impressive defensive sequence in the second quarter, freshman Devon McHenry came up with a steal and fed Malia Begay, who hit a jumper from the left elbow to put M-CHS ahead 14-7. Seconds later, McHenry came up with another steal and passed the ball ahead to Begay, who converted a fast-break layup to increase the Lady Panthers’ lead to 16-7.
“We’re running a certain system where we have three girls that specialize in defense and three girls that specialize in offense, and that really helps keep us fresh,” McHenry explained. “The defense is always really intense and really on spot because we’re always fresh and able to give our best.”
Leading 18-10 at halftime, M-CHS threatened to break away with a 7-0 run to begin the third quarter. Mancos responded with a 4-0 run of its own, which was capped by a smooth elbow jumper by junior Taeylor Samora, which cut the Lady Panthers’ lead to 27-16.
Ahead 29-18 early in the fourth quarter, M-CHS received a boost from senior Payton Keith, who opened the quarter with a jump shot off of the glass and later fired a perfect cross-court pass to sophomore Taelyn Comisky for a layup. Keith capped off her impressive fourth quarter effort with a 3-pointer from the right corner, which put M-CHS ahead 28-23 with 1:12 left in the contest.
“I love 3-pointers,” said Keith, who scored seven points in the contest. “I don’t always make them, but I love shooting them.”
Joining Keith among M-CHS’ offensive leaders were McHenry and sophomore Hayden Leggett, who netted nine points each, and sophomore Malia Begay, who scored six.
The Bluejays were led in scoring by junior Emily Cole, who scored a game-high 14-points. Freshman Madi Hale opened her high school career with an eight points, and junior Ericka Peacock scored three.
“(Emily) is our team leader, and she’s a captain,” said Mancos head coach Cory Cole. “In the offseason, she’s at every open gym, and we expect her to have performances like she had tonight every game.”
Cory Cole then added that he hopes that his players will benefit from the experience of playing larger schools regardless of whether they win or lose.
“Class 3A teams tend to be faster,” Cory Cole said. “If we can keep up with them, we can keep up with anybody in the state.”
One game into its season, M-CHS has already equaled its win total from last season and will next face off against Monticello at home on Dec. 1. Mancos will return to action at home against Bayfield on Dec. 2.