Throughout its nonconference schedule, the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball team racked up eight consecutive wins and left little doubt of its status as a top team in the Southwest.
The New Year brings new challenges, however, and on Jan. 11, the first will come from a Pagosa Springs team that finished second in the Intermountain League last season and is off to a 6-3 start this year.
For the Panthers to win, players will need to stick to its fast pace, which utilizes high-pressure defense to create fast breaks.
Among M-CHS’ talented scorers is junior Teagan Whiteskunk, who averages 20.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.9 assists this season. A player who distributes the ball and scores efficiently, Whiteskunk figures to give Pagosa Springs fits.
While the Pirates lack a player with Whiteskunk’s talent, the team has had no difficulty scoring, thanks to a balanced attack with four players averaging at least seven points per game.
Junior Pirates forward Mason Snarr look to use his 6-foot-3 frame to create opportunities in the paint and maintain his 12.3 points per game average, while sophomore wing Mitchell Lewis, who averages 12.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game, will look to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Among the factors that could influence the game include Pagosa Springs’ ability to deal with the Panthers’ size and athleticism.
The strength of M-CHS forward Cordell Baer has proven to be a difference-maker, as the senior has controlled the paint and averaged 13.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per game.
Junior wing Titus Jackson is among the most athletic players in the Intermountain League, and senior guard Michael Diaz, who has 10.4 points per game this season, provides the Panthers with scoring punch off the bench.
While M-CHS looks to be the favorite, fans should not forget that the Pirates defeated the Panthers in both matchups last season.
Whether last year’s victories bolsters Pagosa Springs’ confidence to the point that they are able to pull off an upset victory remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that this year’s M-CHS team is far better than last year’s on both ends of the floor.
Although fans can expect an exciting contest early on, look for the Panthers’ firepower to be too much for the Pirates as M-CHS will likely score more than 60 points and win by at least 15.
The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Cortez. On Saturday, the Panthers go to Bayfield for 3 p.m. start against the Wolverines.