If Game 1 is an indicator, the Panthers are going to be a menace on the boards.
Dominating the rebound battle, Montezuma-Cortez High School on Tuesday used second chances and free throws to open the 2018-19 campaign with an 82-76 victory over San Juan. Four Panthers reached double figures as the hosts overcame turnovers to hold off the Broncos.
M-CHS (1-0) jumped on the visiting Broncos from the opening tip, as the Panthers zipped down the court for a Teagan Whiteskunk layup. From there, the Panthers overwhelmed the Broncos (0-1) in the paint, as seniors Cordell Baer and Jens Jorgensen dominated the glass. A pair of Whiteskunk three-pointers had the home team out in front 17-4, and it appeared as though the Panthers might run away with the contest.
However, the Broncos slowly worked their way back into the contest, shifting into a press that gave the Panthers fits for most of the night. Junior Jaxon Torgerson paced the comeback for San Juan, accounting for a 14-2 run spanning the end of the first quarter and into the second to pull the visitors within one at 19-18.
That’s when junior Titus Jackson took over. Having missed last year with an injury, Jackson exploded onto the scene with a plethora of electrifying plays. After snapping the Bronco run with a transition bucket, Jackson became a frequent customer at the free-throw line, in part because of his ability to outleap the opposition and earn fouls on putback attempts. Jackson’s effort sparked a late run to close out the first half, with the Panthers heading to the locker room up, 37-28.
With early-season miscues aplenty for both squads, fouls began to mount in the second half, and San Juan used the charity stripe to their benefit. The Broncos added a flurry of three-pointers, closing within 55-52 with one quarter to play.
With just over six minutes left in the contest, San Juan tallied another triple to take their first lead of the game, 60-59. M-CHS senior Michael Diaz made sure that the lead was short-lived, attacking the basket and earning a trip to the line, where he buried a pair of free throws. It marked a stretch of six straight points for the guard.
The teams traded buckets down the stretch, leading to a crucial moment in the contest with just under two minutes to play.
Leading by one, Whiteskunk drilled a three from the top of the key. In the battle for the potential rebound, a foul was called against San Juan. Frustration from the foul led to a technical foul against the Broncos. Baer and Whiteskunk went to the line and coolly knocked in all four free throws from the sequence. When the dust settled, the Panthers had a seven-point possession, and suddenly the lead had ballooned to 75-67.
From there, the Panthers managed out the closing moments, making their free throws to produce the final margin.
For Panthers head coach Mike Hall, the win demonstrated his team’s mettle. “We showed our maturity tonight,” said Hall. “I’m proud of how we fought through the adversity.”
Jackson led the way for M-CHS with 22 points. Whiteskunk added 21 points, while Diaz scored 14 and Baer finished with 10. Torgerson led all scorers with 27 for San Juan.
Even in the win, Hall knows there’s still work to be done. “We had too many turnovers,” said Hall, “but we know we have some experienced players who are going to help us clean that up.”
The Panthers head to the San Luis Valley for a trio of games this weekend, kicking off with a Thursday date against Moffat County, before contests against Las Animas and Olathe on Friday and Saturday.