Kicking off its Intermountain League schedule with a tough road matchup against Pagosa Springs and a home game one day later against Bayfield, the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys’ basketball team picked up two key wins.
First among the Panthers victories was a 48-47 triumph over Pagosa Springs on Friday that featured several nervous moments after the Pirates mounted a late comeback and had a chance to pull ahead on the game’s final possession.
Thanks to 14 points from seniors Titus Jackson and Teagan Whiteskunk, 10 points from senior Adrian Mark- and a last-second defensive stand, however, M-CHS walked away with a satisfying team victory.
“Pagosa is a very tough team, and it’s always hard to play over there,” Panthers head coach Michael Hall said. “Pagosa is big, and we had to use our athletic ability. It was a back-and-forth battle.”
Senior Adrian Mark chipped in 10 points for the Panthers, senior Blake Keetch scored five points, and senior Andrew Wood scored four. Pagosa Springs was led offensively by Mitch Lewis and Mason Snarr, who each scored 13 points.
The day after its win over Pagosa Springs, M-CHS returned to its home court on Saturday and kept the good times rolling with a 66-49 victory over Bayfield that was far more dominant than the final score indicated.
Leading the way offensively for the Panthers against the Bobcats were Whiteskunk and Jackson, who scored 21 points and 20 points, respectively, and left little doubt as to their status as the best two players on the court.
“Winning these first two league games, it put on the map again for this year,” Whiteskunk said. “It feels good to start out 2-0 (in the Intermountain League).
Although the ultimate result was a good one for the Panthers, the team got off to somewhat slow start and found itself leading 8-6 midway through the opening quarter before closing the opening eight minutes on an 8-0 run.
Things continued to flow for the M-CHS offense during the second quarter as Keetch scored eight total points in the frame, and the Panthers built a 32-14 advantage heading into the halftime break. “Once we figured out we were playing one on one ball, we slowed it down and ran our offense,” Whiteskunk said. “(Running our offense was what worked for us against Pagosa Springs), but today we thought we could do one on one against (Bayfield). Once we started running our offense, we started getting points.”
With its offense still purring during the opening minutes of the second half, the Panthers extended their lead to 37-14 less than two minutes into the third quarter, thanks to a driving layup by Whiteskunk and a long 3-point field goal by senior Andrew Wood.
After a 9-3 run by Bayfield later in the quarter allowed the Bobcats to claw back to within 44-31, the Panthers seized back momentum and seemingly put the game out of reach when Jackson just beat the third-quarter buzzer with a difficult jumper that bounced off the rim three times and dropped through.
Leading by double digits throughout the fourth quarter, M-CHS played several of its bench players and received solid efforts from sophomore John Thomas Carver, senior Giovanni Carta and junior Joshua Chupp.
“We’re a lot deeper this year, so it was nice to see our bench player some time and do well,” Keetch said.
“Our depth on our bench is great,” Hall added. “We’ve got Giovanni Carta and Travis Beeson, our two big guys who can come in, and I have no problem playing them at all. At the guard spot, I’ve got Josh Chupp and JT Carver, and those two boys know what to do.”
In addition to the 21 points that they received from Whiteskunk and the 20 points that they received from Jackson, the Panthers received nine points from Keetch, six from Carver, and three from Wood and Mark.
Bayfield was led offensively by Hunter Bayles, who scored 15 points, and Quintan Hunter who scored 11.
Next up for M-CHS will be a road trip to the San Luis Valley, which will feature a contest against Alamosa on Jan. 24 and a tough matchup against Centauri on Jan. 25. The Panthers will enter the weekend with an 8-3 record overall and a 2-0 record in the Intermountain League.
“We’ve got to get ready for this next weekend,” Hall said. “Centauri, who I believe is right up there on the top, and Alamosa, who play on Friday night, are two good teams. It’s hard to play in that valley.”