For three quarters, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers had their gym rocking. Then, it all came undone.
Bayfield used a 29-point outburst in the final eight minutes to turn a seven-point fourth quarter deficit into a 73-65 victory over the Panthers on Friday.
M-CHS (8-6, 2-3 3A IML) entered the weekend knowing the task that lay ahead of them. A pair of home games against 3A Intermountain League foes Bayfield and Alamosa presented the Panthers with an opportunity to climb right back into the thick of the league title race. From the opening tip, it appeared as though things were going to plan.
Bayfield (9-5, 4-1 3A IML) pressure sought to turn the contest into a track meet. The Panthers were more than happy to oblige. Three first quarter triples, two from sophomore Teagan Whiteskunk, helped the hosts to an early seven-point edge. However, the Wolverine intensity forced M-CHS into turnovers, yielding a turn of the tide. Bayfield closed the quarter on a 12-6 spurt to close to within just one point.
Offense re-emerged in the second period for the hosts, as snappy passing broke through the Bayfield press, with Whiteskunk finding senior Jasen Engel for a wing three. Moments later, Austin Foxworth kicked out to Engel for another Engle three – this one giving the Panthers their largest lead of the game at 29-20.
At the other end, the Panthers sat in a zone, daring the visitors to fire from the outside. Cortez maintained the lead thanks to cold Bayfield shooting, and the Panthers took a 33-26 lead to the locker room.
The game seesawed intensely through the third quarter, as the Wolverines closed within three, before back-to-back threes from Whiteskunk and Engel restored the Panther lead to nine.
With Bayfield crawling back into the game, Cortez responded with a mini-run at the end of the third quarter, highlighted by senior Mario Espinoza’s baseline drive for a buzzer-beating lay-in. With the crowd on its feet, M-CHS headed to the fourth in front, 51-44.
At the height of the excitement, the Panthers were derailed.
Bayfield burst out of the gates in the fourth, knocking in its first three-pointer of the game and scoring the first 12 points of the frame to take their first lead since the second quarter. Whiteskunk buried his fourth three of the game to close the gap to 56-54, but that would be as close as the Panthers would come.
Bayfield senior Ryan Phelps exploded in the fourth quarter to mount the Wolverine charge, scoring a game-high 25 points.
“We had a fantastic first three quarters,” said M-CHS head coach Mike Hall lamented his team’s fourth quarter struggles, “but we picked up a couple quick fouls in the fourth and just couldn’t recover.”
Whiteskunk and Engel finished with 20 points apiece, while junior Jens Jorgenson had a productive night with six tallies.
“I’m proud of our boys,” added Hall. “Bayfield is a tough team, and we know that with a little more mental toughness, we’ll be right there.”
Alamosa 65, M-CHS 51The Panthers on Saturday battled against league-leading Alamosa, but couldn’t rally from a first half deficit, dropping their second game of the weekend 65-51. The Panthers received 22 points from senior Jasen Engel and eight from classmate Austin Foxworth.
In a physical contest, the Panthers trailed 10-8 after the opening eight minutes, but saw the Mean Moose build the lead over the next three quarters. The Panthers briefly cut the margin to 10 in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer as they fell to 8-7 and 2-4 in Intermountain League play.
The Panthers next play Centauri and Monte Vista at M-CHS on Friday and Saturday.