Close, but no cigar.
Such has been the story for the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball team this season, and unfortunately, a Feb. 11 matchup against Durango was no different.
After battling their rival for four quarters, the Panthers eventually succumbed, losing 50-39 and falling 7-11 on the season.
Key to the Panthers’ struggles was an inability to get quality shots during a sloppy first quarter that ended with Cortez trailing 7-4.
Absent a breakaway layup by junior Randy Haley just before the buzzer, things could have been worse for the Panthers, who consistently struggled to run an offense.
“We had some sketchy turnovers in the beginning,” said Panthers’ senior Briston Walker. “It’s hard to recover from stuff like that.”
Recover the Panthers did though, cutting Durango’s lead to 13-11 midway through the second quarter on a three-pointer by junior Konnar McGee.
Durango quickly regained the advantage however, opening up a 21-11 lead after eight consecutive points by Dane Mestas, who scored a team-high 14 points for the Demons.
“There were times where we just had lapses and we have to quit doing that,” said Panthers’ head coach Dusty DeBoer.
Intent on avoiding a blowout, the Panthers cut Durango’s lead to 24-18 entering the half before outscoring the Demons 15-11 during the third quarter.
Keying the big third quarter run was M-CHS senior Brackin Whiteskunk, who scored ten points during the frame.
Primed for a fourth quarter run, the Panthers cut the Demons lead to 36-35 on a layup by Jarin Carver, only to see Durango score seven consecutive points to pull ahead 43-35.
Although the Panthers managed to cut the Durango lead to 44-39, several late layups by the Demons, as well as numerous disputed calls, proved too much for Cortez to overcome.
“I’m not one to blame a loss on the refs, and I won’t blame this one on them either, but the refs didn’t help us at all,” said Panthers’ head coach Dusty DeBoer.
Leading scorers for the Panthers included Whiteskunk (14 points), Jonathan Walck (five points) and Randy Haley (five points).
Up next for the Panthers will be home matchups with Montrose (Feb. 14) and Grand Junction (Feb. 15).
“We just need to learn from this,” said Walker. “We will play the next game even harder.”