Two days, two hard-fought battles for the Montezuma Cortez Lady Panthers, who wrapped up their opening weekend with a 37-26 loss to Monticello (1-2). Looking to build on their season-opening victory over Mancos, the young Panthers employed high-energy defense to make their visitors uncomfortable. However, a second-half run pushed Monticello out in front, sending Cortez (1-1) to their first loss of the season.
In a game in which good looks at the basket were hard to come by, a stifling defense propelled the Panthers out of the gate. Cortez sophomore Malia Begay tallied a pair of layups in the opening minutes. At the other end, a high-octane perimeter zone and strong interior defense by freshman Paige Yarbrough denied Monticello any path to the basket. The Lady Buckaroos were held to a single free throw in the opening quarter, while the Panthers built a 6-1 advantage.
However, momentum shifted as Monticello found its perimeter range in the second quarter, knocking in all five field goals in the frame from 15 feet on their way to taking a 13-11 halftime lead into the locker room.
Sharp Monticello passing out of the break led to a three-pointer by Monticello junior Tymber Black, followed by a layup from Ericka Hill early in the third to build the visitors’ lead to seven.
Cortez responded with nifty footwork and a layup by Yarbrough to close the gap to 20-15. However, Monticello clamped down on the defensive end themselves, clogging the lane and forcing the Panthers into difficult shots. The Buckaroos matched every Panther basket to keep the hosts at arm’s length. Black continued to knock down shots from the outside on her way to a game-high 15 points. Her third three-pointer of the second half pushed the lead to its largest at 30-18.
The home team Panthers made a run to come within seven points in the final minutes, but late-game free throws sealed it for the Buckaroos.
The Panthers received balanced scoring from eight different players, led by six points from freshman Devon McHenry. Begay, along with sophomores Presley Frost and Hayden Leggett, each added four.
Cortez’s young team allowed just 65 points total in it first two games of the season. Head coach John McHenry and the Lady Panthers look to continue their early season growth as they spend the upcoming week in preparation for the Cortez Invitational, when the Panthers will play a pair of games in one day, hosting Ignacio and Nucla at Montezuma-Cortez High School on Friday.