Perhaps the proverbial coffin nails weren’t driven in as fully as they’d appeared.
Montezuma-Cortez fans and players certainly had every reason to think they were. Particularly junior Payton Keith, whose first of two unexpected three-pointers expanded what had been an 11-3 lead after one quarter Tuesday evening to an imposing 16-3 with 5:56 left before halftime.
Visiting Bayfield struck back with a 7-0 spree, but Keith killed it off with another long-range bull’s-eye.
“Any basketball player will understand three-pointers just get your blood flowing! You feel it out on the court—you hit a three-pointer, hear the crowd go crazy, and you have that feeling like, ‘I’m going to do this!’” M-CHS sophomore Aryelle Wright said. “Three-pointers. ... Keith was amazing; we definitely needed that.”
“Lately, threes haven’t been the best ... of my shooting,” Keith laughed. “I was quite surprised!”
But when Keith, as fate would have it inside Panther Gymnasium, was called for her third foul — resulting in her temporary removal from active duty — with only 1:02 left before the break, the Lady Wolverines seized the opportunity to begin a difficult climb out of their first-half hole, en route to a press-powered 50-32 road win.
“It was pretty tough. The last game it was the pressure that really got us, and this game too,” said Wright, of the opponent’s collective full-court resistance closing out the 2016-17 regular season.
“But I think what it came down to was smart passes and just understanding that there’s ten seconds. So if you ... need to look around, don’t be afraid to hold the ball! Don’t be rushing to get rid of the ball! The press really got us.”
And no more so viciously than in the closing quarter All told, during the final eight minutes Bayfield (6-13, 2-8 3A Intermountain) outscored Montezuma-Cortez 23-5 and did not allow the Lady Panthers a field — a full reversal from how the action first unfolded with an early trey by M-CHS freshman talent Myra Simmons.
“They just got us flustered and off-guard,” admitted Bayfield senior Kyle Baker, who led all players with her 15 points and was 9-of-12 from the foul line (BHS as a whole was 17-of-26, the Lady Panthers 12-24). “I mean, they did good; they moved the ball quick and ... fouls got us in trouble.”
“We were all just really pumped up, and there was no negativity, really, going on,” Keith said. “I feel like everybody was on a roll; all our shots were going in when we were working together as a team.”
The Lady Wolverines first gained the upper hand on a short baseline jumper by senior Jade Sanders with 1:12 left in the third, but M-CHS senior Kaeleen Boggs — joining Cortney Cashner and Madelyn Begay in playing her final home game – canned a tying basket shortly before the buzzer, evening the score at 27-27.
Unfortunately, after a Wright free throw put the youth-heavy Lady Panthers (1-18, 0-10) up 30-29 early in the fourth, Bayfield broke away in fast fashion. Held scoreless all game until that moment, sophomore Jordan Lanning scored eight of the guests’ next ten points and finished with a decisive 11 down the home stretch.
“We knew that if we flustered them like they did us in the first quarter, then we’d get our points,” Baker said. “And that’s exactly what we did; we flustered them and proved that we came here to play.”
Simmons finished with a pair of triples and totaled 14 points in defeat. Hitting six of ten free-throw attempts, Wright booked eight. Keith finished with her six and Boggs and Cashner each logged two as the regular season concluded—leaving only this coming week’s do-or-die IML District Tournament, hosted by Bayfield.
Montezuma-Cortez will have to survive a play-in contest, however, to get there.
“We’ll be facing Alamosa — I’m not sure where — for our playoff game,” Wright said. “Whether it’s dribbling, passing, shooting ... we can constantly keep building on everything. And that’s what’s so good about having such a young team – we’re forming a bond, clicking with each other.”
“We need to know that we have each other’s backs through all of it,” said Keith. “Like, we only have ... two juniors and three seniors. That’s enough for a starting team, but where are we going to get the other five in case we go down? Everything just needs to come together.”