Over the course of its first six Intermountain League games this season, the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball team consistently flashed its talent, but only won three times.
In what might have been its most critical weekend of the season however, M-CHS paired talent with results and walked away with wins against Bayfield High School and Alamosa High School. The Panthers are now tied for second in the league and are serious contenders to capture the IML championship.
“We played as one,” Panthers senior Cordell Baer said. “We have five people on the floor for a reason, and I think everyone contributed in the right way. We played error-free basketball.”
Panthers shock defending state championsOpening the weekend in front of a raucous against defending Class 3A State Champion Bayfield on Feb. 1, M-CHS refused to back down throughout what was a hard-fought contest and walked away with a 60-55 overtime victory.
Senior Cordell Baer turned in one of his best performances of the season en route to a game-high 20 points, junior Teagan Whiteskunk chipped in 15 points, and junior Titus Jackson notched 11 points for the Panthers.
“Bayfield has a special place in my heart and my mind because we’ve been going up against those kids since we were little, and since I went to high school, I haven’t been able to beat them on any team,” Baer said. “This is probably one of the bigger moments of my high school career.”
While the final result was a favorable one for M-CHS, the outlook for the Panthers was not bright throughout a first half that included numerous M-CHS turnovers and ended with Bayfield leading 34-30.
Things got even worse for the Panthers in the third quarter as Bayfield increased its lead to 42-31 while employing a three-quarter-court zone trap that pushed M-CHS ball handlers into corners and caused several turnovers.
Three key plays by Panthers’ senior Michael Diaz midway through the third quarter changed the complexion of the game, however, and gave M-CHS fans reason to hope.
First, the senior drained a long three-pointer from the left wing. Then, he stole the ball, dribbled up court, and lofted a cross-court pass to Whiteskunk, who drained a three-pointer of his own. On his team’s next possession, Diaz converted a transition layup to cut Bayfield’s lead to 42-39.
“It was a crucial moment in the game,” Diaz said, when asked about the exciting sequence. “I don’t know if things would have turned out the same way if something like that didn’t happen.”
Clearly energized heading into the fourth quarter, M-CHS players fed off the energy of their fans while playing lockdown defense and holding Bayfield to two points over the final eight minutes of regulation.
A clutch elbow jumper by Jackson with 1:33 left in the contest tied the score 53-53, and after both teams failed to convert numerous opportunities, the game headed to overtime. A layup by Baer and two free throws by Whiteskunk put M-CHS ahead, 57-53.
As the crowd roared its approval and encouraged Bayfield to ‘warm up the bus,’ Baer and Whiteskunk converted three key free throws over the final minute to ice the game.
“We love our fans, we love this school,” M-CHS senior Jens Jorgensen said. “We appreciated the fans’ support. We were down in the fourth, and we knew we wanted it.”
Panthers down tough Alamosa squadLess than 24 hours after its win over Bayfield, M-CHS hit the road to face Alamosa and came away with a 55-52 victory. The win served as sweet revenge for the Panthers, who were defeated by the Mean Moose 58-48 on Jan. 18.
Next up for M-CHS will be a key weekend that will feature road contests against Centauri and Monte Vista. If the Panthers are able to win both games, they will be guaranteed at least a share of the IML title.