Panthers basketball splits tough league contests

Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 3:29 PM
Cordell Baer fights for a rebound Saturday night against Pagosa Springs.
Mario Espinoza drives for the basket against Pagosa Springs.
Kolby Waltman steals the ball Saturday night against Pagosa Springs.
Teagan Whiteskunk goes up for a basket Saturday night against Pagosa Springs.

On a weekend that featured a combination of highlight-reel plays and hair-pulling moments, the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball team came away with an impressive victory and a frustrating defeat.

Opening last weekend’s two-game slate on the road against Monte Vista, the Panthers benefited from an explosive performance by sophomore Teagan Whiteskunk, who scored a career-high 37 points and led the Panthers to a 79-56 victory.

M-CHS struggled to find the bottom of the net early and scored just 11 points during a first quarter that ended tied. The offense came alive in the second quarter however, as Whiteskunk drilled long jumpers and sliced to the basket for easy layups.

By halftime, the Panthers led 34-19 and after a slow start to the third quarter, pulled away for a 23-point victory.

“The boys came out and played really well,” Hall said when asked to assess his team’s performance “The first quarter, we were tied, and after that, we took control of the game.”

Following their victory over Monte Vista, the Panthers returned home for a league contest against Pagosa Springs on Jan. 19 and lost a heartbreaker, 53-49.

The game began on a positive note for the Panthers, who ended the first quarter with a 15-5 lead thanks to six early points from senior Jasen Engel and numerous offensive rebounds by Cordell Baer.

Things began to unravel for M-CHS in the second quarter, however, after Whiteskunk was forced to sit with two fouls and the Panthers’ offensive organization unraveled. Pagosa Springs took a 17-16 lead after scoring the first 10 points of the quarter and led 26-22 at halftime.

“We haven’t played at home in a while, and I think the boys were excited,” said Hall. “The home crowd was key. Then we got into foul trouble a little bit and that especially hurt (Teagan) because he just couldn’t get going.”

Looking to begin the second half on a high note, M-CHS initially found its rhythm and cut Pagosa’s lead to 31-28 after two free throws by Mario Espinoza with 5:09 remaining.

An 8-3 run by Pagosa put the Panthers behind 39-31, but after two free throws by Baer and a three-pointer from Espinoza with 8 seconds left in the quarter, M-CHS trailed 41-36 heading into the final frame.

With the game hanging in the balance throughout its final eight minutes, M-CHS leaned heavily on Espinoza and Kolby Waltman, whose aggressive scoring drive and subsequent free throw tied the game, 41-41.

The Panthers were never able to capture the lead however, as four key free throws during the final minute by Pagosa Springs junior Jesus Pacheco cemented his team’s victory.

Despite appearing clearly disappointed after his team’s loss, Hall praised the effort of several his players, including Espinoza, whose ability to create opportunities off the dribble and hit jump shots kept his team in the game.

“Mario Espinoza has been playing great,” Hall said. “All year, he has been consistent. He’s a good attacker, and he’s good at going to the basket. He had a good game.”

Now 7-5 overall on the season, M-CHS will prepare for its highly anticipated rivalry game against Durango at home on Jan. 23. M-CHS defeated Durango 68-46 earlier this season.

“We’re excited about (playing Durango),” Hall said. “We beat them once this year, but we can’t let that get in our heads. Obviously, everybody knows the rivalry situation there. It will be a fun game.”