Braden Keetch and Jasen Engel were in sync early on Tuesday.
The Montezuma-Cortez duo played a solid two-man game against the visiting Monticello Buckaroos to combine for all of the Panthers’ first-quarter points.
Starting at the five, the springy Keetch used his athleticism to get by Monticello big man Carson Duncan for two early buckets. And then when the Bucks extended their pressure on him above the free-throw line, the lane was clear for Keetch to dump it down inside to Engel, who found mismatches on smaller guards for easy layups.
Leading 12-10 to start the second quarter, Keetch made another excellent entry pass to Engel for a score. Engel tallied 12 first-half points for the Panthers, but on the other end of the court, the 6-foot-5 Duncan was hurting them by scoring 11 first-half points of his own.
M-CHS tried to front him, but the Bucks lobbed passes over the top and the Panthers’ help-side defense was slow to rotate and Monticello got easy scores to jump ahead 19-14.
“We wanted to front him to start, but we couldn’t get our help side there,” explained head coach Mike Hall. “They have a good offense and they’re so disciplined, and we couldn’t get a help side guy so I just told them that we’ve got to quit fronting him. He was eating us up.”
Daniel Fernandez kissed in a bank shot and Obed Simental hit a trey to pull M-CHS within two late in the second.
And then, Hall found his answer for Duncan in 6-foot-1 sophomore Cordell Baer.
Baer and senior Juan Arballo subbed in with around a minute left in the half, and while Arballo provided a zap of energy, Baer locked up Duncan defensively.
Without fouling, Baer forced a missed shot inside, and later, he closed out smoothly to contest a mid-range jumper. Then, in the waning seconds of the quarter, Baer scooped up an offensive rebound and stuck it back in at the buzzer to send the two teams to the break tied at 23.
“Offensively and defensively, he brings strength,” Hall said of Baer. “He’s a strong kid and if he gives us three or four minutes a quarter that’s all we ask.”
Baer and Arballo gave M-CHS more good minutes in the second half, as did the rest of the Panthers bench.
Baer scored four points in the third quarter and Quanah Casey added five. And after a mild-paced first half, the Panthers picked things up in the second and built a nine-point lead to start the fourth.
They led by as many as 14 in the final frame, and although Monticello cut the lead to seven at one point, the Panthers closed things out and won 54-44.
“Our bench play is what saved us tonight,” said Hall. “Our starting five got tired, especially Jasen Engel, he worked so hard that he got tired. But the bench came in and helped him out and gave him a couple of minutes to catch his breath. The bench just kept momentum going and kept knocking down shots, and it was nice to see.”
Engel led the team with 20 points, Simental scored 10, Casey tallied with seven, Baer and Keetch each added six and Fernandez finished with five.