Until the final buzzer sounded in the game against Bayfield High School on Saturday, players on the Montezuma-Cortez High School basketball team were unsure who would walk away with a win.
After Bayfield’s Cayanne Carlson missed two free throws with 0.4 seconds to go, however, the Lady Panthers breathed easier with the knowledge that they had eked out a 44-43 victory on their home floor.
“I thought we had good moments, and I thought we played a little bit scared and a little bit tentative in the second half,” first-year head coach Brad Wright said. “We let them come up and put pressure on us. We made some ill-advised passes, and that took us out of our offense, but it was nice to get the win.”
While nearly every player on M-CHS’ roster contributed to the team’s victory in some way, the biggest stars were arguably seniors Dimery Plewe and Hayden Leggett, who scored nine points and eight points, respectfully, and handled the ball well throughout the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lady Panthers were led by junior Paige Yarbrough and senior Presley Frost, who shared the unenviable task of slowing down Bayfield junior Macee Schultz, who has given opponents fits this season using her 6’2 frame.
“I thought our (post players) played really well,” Wright said. “I thought Paige and Presley boxed out hard and really rebounded well. (Bayfield) has a really tall girl, (Schultz), that we had to work really hard against.”
With the game hanging in the balance and fourth quarter nearing its halfway point, the Lady Panthers found themselves trailing 39-34 and facing the danger of losing a contest that they had led throughout.
A smooth 3-pointer from the top of the key by Leggett, an elbow jumper by Presley Frost, and two nifty buckets by Yarbrough put M-CHS ahead 43-39 with 2:56 left in game however, and it appeared as if M-CHS might coast to victory.
Triumph was not to come easily to the Lady Panthers, though, and after Bayfield’s Riley Campbell hit a free throw to cut M-CHS’ lead to 44-43 with 10.4 seconds to go and M-CHS senior Taelynn Comisky missed a free throw with 6.8 ticks left, the Bobcats had a final opportunity to win the game when Carlson was fouled in the backcourt by Myra Simmons with 0.4 seconds left.
As M-CHS fans roaring in hopes of creating a distraction, Carlson stepped to the line and missed both free throws. After a rebound by Frost, time expired, and the Lady Panthers walked away with their first league victory of the season.
“I was just panicking, “Simmons said. “The last two minutes, I was trying to tell (my teammates) to run the time our and we were just throwing up shots. I’m glad we were able to win.”
Although the final quarter turned out to be one of the most chaotic quarters of the season, the first three quarters of the contest were somewhat mundane as M-CHS controlled the pace and appeared to be in control.
After building a 12-7 lead by the end of the first quarter and carrying a 20-18 lead into halftime, the Lady Panthers extended their lead to 29-26 heading into the fourth quarter thanks in large part to the shooting of Plewe, who knocked down a key 3-pointer and scored five total points in the third quarter.
“(Bayfield) was in a 1-2-2 (zone defense), and we talked about our attack points being the elbow extended,” Wright said. We wanted our players to get the ball there and drive it down to the wing. That opened up (Plewe’s) baseline 3-pointer, which was really good for us.”
In addition to Plewe and Leggett’s offensive contributions, Yarbrough scored seven points and Frost scored six for the Lady Panthers. Bayfield was led offensively by Schultz, who scored 11. Aubree Farmer scored 10, and Riley Campbell chipped in eight.
M-CHS’ win over Bayfield followed a tough road loss to Pagosa Springs on Friday that ended with the scoreboard favoring the Pirates, 62-37.
Yarbrough led the Lady Panthers with 12 points in the loss, and Justina Bayles and Mackenzie Begay each scored five points. Pagosa Springs was led offensively by Taylor Lewis, who scored a game-high 14 points.
With its record now at 2-6 overall and 1-1 in the Intermountain League, M-CHS will prepare for a road trip that will include a matchup against Alamosa High School on Jan. 24 and a game against Centauri High School on Jan. 25.
Until that road trip begins, the Lady Panthers will savor their first Intermountain League victory of the season.