BAYFIELD – Able to pitch a near-shutout defensively during the third quarter, the rallying Montezuma-Cortez girls’ basketball team crept to within two points with only eight regulation minutes remaining, but ultimately could not erase the eight-point deficit facing them at halftime and suffered a season-ending 41-33 loss Tuesday evening in the Intermountain League District Tournament’s play-in game.
“That third quarter ... that was definitely one of the things we talked [at halftime] about: Bayfield had made their run and so we were looking to make ours,” said M-CHS head coach Brad Wright. “And we did just that, but then we had a couple lapses and ended up re-digging a hole.”
“The game was definitely going our way; we did almost shut them out,” senior forward Presley Frost agreed, alluding to the Lady Panthers out-scoring host Bayfield 9-3 during the third, and approaching as close as 25-23 via senior Malia Begay’s clutch three-pointer off-setting Lady Wolverine junior Cayanne Carlson’s trey with less than a minute left in its closing moments.
“We can always rely on Myra (Simmons) and Malia to put down ... 3s,” said Frost, who sparked the visitors’ third-quarter comeback herself with an early corner triple. “And we know to give it to them.”
“We changed our mindset,” junior center Paige Yarbrough said, explaining M-CHS’ post-intermission revitalization. “We were attacking rather than playing to not lose.”
BHS (9-11 overall), however, found a similar mentality right when it mattered most.
Beginning the final frame on a 13-2 run, featuring a sequence in which freshman reserve guard Riley Campbell knocked down back-to-back jumpers and then – after Wright took a 30-second timeout – zipped a perfect set-up pass to junior Madison Wells on the left wing for a crippling three, Bayfield’s advantage swelled to 38-25.
“Yeah, I just saw her out there and I was like, ‘I’m not going to try to drive; I’m just going to pass it,’” said Campbell. “She was wide-open ... I just felt like we needed to score. We needed a win.”
M-CHS senior Dimery Plewe responded with a badly-needed free throw, but the Lady Wolverines answered with sophomore guard Maddy Oltmanns converting a breakaway layup with 3:22 left – maxing out the home team’s lead at 14 points.
With time remaining but expiring faster and faster, Montezuma-Cortez (6-13) again struck from deep with senior Mackenzie Begay cashing a trey and bringing the no-quit Lady Panthers back to 40-31.
“We obviously spend a lot of time working on our perimeter game; we expect that to be a big part,” Wright said. “If we would have shot a little bit better from outside the three-point line, I think it would’ve given us a better chance to win.”
But despite totaling four triples to Bayfield’s three, M-CHS – which had led 10-9 after the opening quarter before BHS junior center Macee Schulz started the second on a personal 6-0 run, with junior Brooke Merchant then tacking on a key three – would come up short.
Merchant would hit a late free throw (Bayfield finished 4-of-11 from the charity stripe; M-CHS was 7-of-12) and with 0:56 remaining, Lady Panther senior Hayden Leggett was lost to an apparent left ankle injury, resulting from a vertical, volleyball spike-style rejection by Schulz, causing Leggett to land hard and off-balance.
“Very bittersweet, tough to end the season like this, but when it’s all said and done, there’s only ... one winner; unfortunately, it wasn’t us today,” said Wright.
Playing their final game in black-and-orange togs were Frost (5 points), Leggett (4), Simmons (4), Malia Begay (5), Taelynn Comisky, Plewe (3) and Mackenzie Begay (3) – a group the skipper said he’d be sad to see leaving the program.
“It’s going to be tough to replace what we have – the maturity level and the skill level – with the seniors,” Wright said. “But I’m really proud of what they’ve done; there’s a lot of character with the group and they’re going to do well in life, how they carry on.”
“I played softball with Taelynn and Myra, so ... it was nice going from that to this sport because we already had a bond,” said Frost. “And, you know, I’ve been playing (basketball) with these seniors since, probably, my sixth grade year; it was nice to go out with them, and with the coach that we started with.”
“I’ve played with them since I was in fourth grade, so we have a lot of chemistry,” added Yarbrough (8 points). “We made some amazing progress, but I’m sad to see all the seniors leave.”
Schulz totaled a game-best 10 points, Oltmanns and Carlson each booked eight and Merchant six as Bayfield advanced to face regular-season IML champs Pagosa Springs (15-4) on Friday in the tourney’s Monte Vista-hosted semifinals.
“I thought that we came out with a lot of passion and a lot of drive,” said Carlson. “We need to have that mentality to ... push ourselves forward in the season. We’re just going to have to focus on ... working our hardest at practice.”
Centauri (17-2) and Alamosa (16-4) will settle the second semi; AHS mangled MVHS (2-18) in the other play-in, 54-5.