The old saying the refs let them play described the Panthers-Demons slugfest Thursday.
The Panthers sought revenge against their eastern rivals, Durango, at Montezuma-Cortez High School.
Bodies flew for loose balls, and players wrestled each other for the tie-up. Players elbowed, pushed and went over the back for offensive rebounds in this classic rivalry.
In the end, the Demons defensive pressure was stronger and forced costly M-CHS turnovers. The Panthers battled on senior night but came up short, 45-38.
It was a good defensive game. I wish we played man-to-man the whole entire game, Panthers coach Eric White said. We held them to 13 points at halftime. Offensively, we just struggled getting the ball in the hoop, getting into our offense, it seemed like. But it was a great game. I just felt like, if we could have ever got the (late) lead, maybe we could have held onto it.
M-CHS (11-12, 2-8 4A Southwestern League) will now await its playoff fate Sunday when the Colorado High School Activities Association announces the 4A, 48-team postseason bracket.
Its been a pleasure to coach those guys, White said about his seniors. To see the way they grew from freshman (year) to now, they improved a bunch. All my seniors have been loyal to me for four years. Its paid off for them. I sure hope we get a chance to play another game.
Durango (12-11, 4-6 SWL) swept the season series for the first time in two years.
Christian Chupp gave the Panthers an early 3-2 lead on senior night with a 3 assisted by fellow senior Jay Rainer. After a Chupp free throw, Durangos Nick Hamlin made back-to-back buckets to give the Demons their first lead at 6-4.
The defensive struggle continued the first eight minutes, as Durango just led 8-4 at the end of one.
Kaleb Cobb hit the Demons first 3-pointer to up their lead to 11-5, but the Panthers came back.
Nick Haukeness got on the board with an offensive rebound, then nailed a rim-rocking 10-footer. Chupp then hit Rainer on consecutive possessions to knot the score at 11.
Each rival cranked up the defense from there, not letting anyone get low for easy hoops.
The only difference in the half was Kevin Rangels offensive board and put back in the last 10 seconds of the second quarter. Durango led by a modest 13-11 halftime score.
To start the third quarter, it was Chupp to Rainer again. This time, from downtown, which gave M-CHS the lead at 14-13. But the deceptively athletic Hamlin was a madman down low. He went on a 6-0 run himself to make it 19-14, Durango.
Chupp and Rainer answered back to tie the game at 19. Junior guard Alex Lopez found Chupp open for 3 good. Rainer made it 19 all with a driving layup on the next possession.
However, Durango channeled its inner offensive Demon with a 9-0 run. It was capped by a three-point play from Ty Elliot to put the hated visitors up 28-19.
Rainer got the raucous, white-out crowd back in it, though. He took the inbounds, faked a pass, which faked defender Joe Keresey out of his shoes, then let it fly from downtown for three more.
The Panthers trailed by six and later cut it to 32-27 going into the fourth quarter when Lopez hit his first 3 right before the horn.
In the fourth, M-CHS senior center Destry Smith made two layups and it was only 34-31. The Panthers later had the ball with a chance to get within one or tie the game. But M-CHS turnovers led to Durango points. Devin Fox threw the ball away, then on the other end, Smith was flipped in the air with the ball and called for traveling. With the Demons possessing the ball, Keresey hit a dagger 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 37-31 for his team.
M-CHS battled nearly even the rest of the way, but couldnt break through Durangos switching defensive schemes. The Demons spoiled senior night against their rivals with a 7-point win.
We just came out and played as hard as we could, Rainer said. We did that mostly on the defensive end. It was all determined by effort. The offense just wasnt there. Especially, in the first half. They made shots that were good shots. For the most part, we missed our shots and thats really what hurt us in the long run.
Rainer led the Panthers with 13 points, while Chupp poured in 12. Smith tallied eight points and eight rebounds.
Looking back at the four years, I cant regret a thing, Rainer said. Whether or not we have postseason, I look back and going through this program has just really built character in me and my fellow seniors. I cant regret anything no matter what happens. I would be excited if the postseason did happen. That would be a great opportunity.
Hamlin had a game high 16, and Keresey scored all nine of his points on 3-pointers.
M-CHS will find out Sunday evening if it is selected by the CHSAA playoff committee. Check www.chsaa.org and www.coloradopreps.com for more information.
NOTES: Fox, Chupp, Ryan Nidiffer, Rainer, Smith and Haukeness were the senior players recognized before the game.
Reach Bobby Abplanalp at firstname.lastname@example.org.