When members of the Montezuma-Cortez High School basketball team take the court at Denver University on Thursday night, they will do so with the knowledge that they have already put together a historic season.
The Panthers have no intention of resting on their laurels, however, as players and coaches have consistently reiterated their belief that their team is capable of winning the state championship in Colorado’s 3A classification.
Serving as an initial roadblock between M-CHS and its goals will be the Sterling High School Tigers, who have won 23 of their 24 games this season and are currently ranked second overall in the state.
Unlike many highly ranked teams that rely on powerful and high-flying offenses, Sterling has found success with a stellar defense that has held opponents to 36.6 points per game this season. Over the course of 24 games, the Tigers have allowed opponents to score more than 50 points just twice and have held opponents under 35 points nine times.
While Sterling’s defense might be intimidating to many opponents, M-CHS is confident that it will be able to score thanks to a diverse roster that features a handful of talented guards and two powerful post players.
Among the Panthers most likely to give the Tigers fits will be junior Teagan Whiteskunk, who averaged 17.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game during one of the finest seasons by an M-CHS guard in recent memory.
Also likely to play a major role on the offensive end for M-CHS will be senior Cordell Baer, whose rare mix of power and athleticism at the forward position allowed him to average 12.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season.
Other Panthers who could serve as major factors include junior Titus Jackson and senior Michael Diaz, who have averaged 11.5 points and 9.6 points per game, respectively. Young’s ability to get to the rim and finish in traffic has given opponents fits, while Diaz’s energy off the bench has carried M-CHS to numerous victories this season.
Although Sterling lacks a go-to player on the offensive end, the Tigers have several players who can score, as evidenced by the fact that four of their players average at least 8.0 points per game.
Top scorers for the Tigers include senior Carter Keil (9.8 ppg), senior Jace Pittman (9.5 ppg), junior Axel Henry (9.4 ppg), and senior Isaac Harris (8.0 ppg). Four Sterling players stand at least 6 feet, 4 inches, and Pittman and senior Jayson Frank are listed at 6 feet, 7 inches.
While there is little doubt that Sterling will be one of the toughest opponents that M-CHS has faced this season, there is no reason to believe that the Panthers will not be able to hang with their decorated opponents.
Look for M-CHS’ talent at the guard position to be a difference-maker as Sterling defenders will likely have their hands full containing multiple Panthers’ shooters, who have shown a propensity for draining 3-point field goals this season.
In the event that M-CHS is able to eclipse the 55-point mark against the Tigers, the Panthers will be in great shape to advance to a Final Four matchup against the winner of a contest between No. 3 Manual High School and No. 11 Resurrection Christian.
The Panthers game against Sterling is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Results from M-CHS’ opening-round matchup will be published on www.the-journal.com after they become available.