AZTEC – There is no shortage of experience for the Panthers as they enter the 2019-20 season. A seasoned group of upperclassmen opened the campaign on the road against Aztec, bringing a high energy level but ultimately falling to the Tigers, 36-29.
M-CHS (0-1), in search of their first winning season in well over a decade, demonstrated the composure of a team that has improved its win total progressively over the past three seasons, picking up eight wins a year ago.
Tenacious defense has become the calling card for the orange-and-black during their resurgence, and the Panthers aim to use that intensity to translate to easy offense.
First-year head coach Brad Wright saw his Panthers squad jump out to an early 9-7 lead on buckets by seniors Dimery Plewe and Myra Simmons along with four points from junior Paige Yarbrough.
After the hosts jumped back in front, senior MacKenzie Begay sparked a personal nine-point run, including a pair of three-pointers to pull the Panthers back within one, 19-18.
Momentum seesawed back toward Aztec (1-0), and the Tigers took a five-point lead late in the opening half, behind nine points from junior Daniella Sanders.
However, the Panthers pushed a late 5-0 run, including a bucket by senior Presley Frost right before the halftime horn tying the game at 23.
M-CHS went ice cold in the third quarter, only tallying a Begay triple, but leaned on their defense to keep themselves in the game, down 31-26 after three quarters.
On a night when points were at a premium, a layup by Simmons cut the deficit to two, while the Panther defense shut out the Tigers in the opening four minutes of the final frame.
With momentum on their side, M-CHS couldn’t quite capitalize on chances to tie the game, as Aztec used key free throws late to hold off the Panthers.
Begay led the way for M-CHS, finishing with 12 points. Simmons, Yarbrough, and Plewe each added five points.
The Panthers will look to bounce back as they head to the Mountain Top Tournament, hosted by Centauri High School. They open their weekend of action against Las Animas on Thursday, Dec. 5, before match-ups against Olathe and Durango on Friday and Saturday.