Through the first two games of the season, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers had relied heavily on their feisty defense. The offense came to life in the Rumble in the Jungle Tournament opener on Saturday, as the Panthers (2-2) blitzed past the visiting Nucla Mustangs, 60-22.
Playing at home, M-CHS took control early against the Mustangs (0-2). Crisp ball movement opened up good looks in the paint, and the Panthers cashed in. Sophomore Presley Frost slipped off a screen, took an entry pass and laid the ball in to build the Panther lead to 10-1. Frost accounted for six of the team’s 16 points in the opening period as the hosts built a double-digit lead.
After Nucla closed within eight early in the second quarter, the Panthers sparked a 13-2 run to close out the half. A pair of back-to-back breakaway sequences fueled the run. After a Panther rebound, junior Kailey Case caught a sprinting freshman Paige Yarbrough in stride with a half-court pass for a lay-in. Moments later, sophomore Malia Begay teamed up with junior Mandy McAfee for a perfectly executed two-on-one bucket.
Eight different Panthers scored in an efficient first half as the hosts roared into the locker room with a 29-11 lead. Not to be lost in the dominant first half, the Panthers defense shined again, holding the Mustangs to a single field goal.
High-percentage shots were the order of the day for the Panthers, who capitalized on transition play again early in the second half. Sophomore Hayden Leggett broke behind the Nucla defense for two to open the third quarter. Moments later, Case was in the middle of another hustle play, diving on the floor to capture a rebound, then, while still seated on the floor, dishing it to junior Elizabeth Hughes for a basket.
Working a variety of different sets in the fourth quarter, the Panthers steadily pulled away to easily surpass their highest point total of the young season.
M-CHS head coach John McHenry was pleased with his team’s offensive efficiency. “We really saw our offense work,” praised McHenry. “The girls got to see what happens when we move and run our offense the way we want to.”
Frost paced the way for the hosts, leading 11 different Panthers with 10 points. “She’s really stepped up,” said McHenry. “We’ve been able to use her as a post and guard, which makes her a threat.”
Leggett added nine points, and classmate Taelyn Comisky tallied eight in the well-rounded Cortez victory.
Cortez falls to IgnacioIn the final contest of the tournament, M-CHS ran out of steam against one of the top teams in 2A, the Ignacio Bobcats, falling 56-27. Frost once again paced the way for the Panthers, finishing with 11 points. Sophomore Malia Begay added seven in the losing effort.
The Bobcats found flow in their offense, building a 37-11 lead at the half. Avionne Gomez racked up 21 points for the Bobcats (4-0), who finished 2-0 in the tournament. Larrisa Gallegos also finished in double figures with 10 for Ignacio.
Cortez prepares for one of New Mexico’s elite programs when Bloomfield visits for a Tuesday night meeting at Montezuma-Cortez High School.