Paired up against the host squad, M-CHS junior Jasen Engel scored 12 first-half points to keep the visiting Panthers on the heels of the rival Demons, trailing 36-30 at the break.
“The Durango/Cortez game is such a hyped-up game that the emotions were high,” said M-CHS head coach Mike Hall. “We came out playing very well and so did Durango, and it’s just that type of game, that’s what’s going to happen.”
However, Kyle Kirkpatrick opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer for Durango, and DHS senior Steven Wyman followed it with a dunk and the foul to swing momentum in favor of the Demons, who outscored M-CHS 16-4 in the third and then closed things out in the fourth quarter to win 64-45.
“We came out of halftime and we couldn’t get anything to go,” said Hall. “Durango got a three-pointer on their first possession of the third quarter and the second they got a dunk and a foul on it. So, the crowd and the emotions went, and the next time down they got another and-one. It was hard to recover from those quick nine points that they gave us right off the bat.”
Engel and Kirkpatrick led their respective squads with 16 points each.
With a quick turnaround, Hall instructed his team to put Friday night’s game behind them as they entered Saturday’s contest against Ignacio.
The Bobcats had fallen 77-41 on Friday against Bayfield, and after seeing the Wolverines find success inside against Ignacio, Hall planned for his Panthers to replicate it.
Determined to play bigger and use their size advantage against Ignacio, the Panthers went inside right from the tip.
Senior Braden Keetch scored two buckets off of sets and got two more off of offensive rebounds to score eight first-quarter points and give M-CHS a 13-9 lead entering the second.
Ignacio used a trio of triples to close in on the Panthers and trailed by just one at the break, but the Panthers ran away with the third quarter.
They found more success going inside, this time with Micah Hightower, who gobbled up offensive boards and scored on put backs, free throws and a jumper. The contributions from Keetch and Hightower were welcomed, especially with the Panthers’ leading scorer Engel missing time in the second quarter and going scoreless in the first half.
“He just came out a little slow,” explained Hall. “He missed a couple open threes right off the bat and then he rolled his ankle in the second quarter and he missed five or six minutes. But then in the second half he was ready to go.”
Engel attacked the basket for an old-fashioned three-point play early in the third, and then he benefited from Ignacio’s mistakes. Growing frustrated, the Bobcats committed a string of fouls and technicals that sent Engel and the Panthers to the line for free points. Engel was 7-of-7 from the stripe in the third as M-CHS’ lead swelled to 17.
Ignacio made things interesting in the fourth, pulling within nine points, but the Panthers were able to close things out and held on to win 60-43.
Keetch led M-CHS with 14 points, Engel scored 12 and Hightower finished with 10.
Now 3-5 on the year, M-CHS opens Intermountain League play on Friday at home against Alamosa (6-1, 0-0 IML).