Triggered by senior forward Taiah Wilson’s twin treys early in the third quarter, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers turned a game steadily slipping away on their home floor into an overtime epic.
After denying visiting Ignacio a chance for a go-ahead hoop with 7.1 ticks remaining in the four-minute bonus session Wednesday, M-CHS completed its inexplicable comeback as time expired.
Head coach Brad Wright called a timeout, then sophomore guard/forward Savannah Haselroth managed to inbound the ball to senior guard Bri Comisky – the one player IHS didn’t want to see hurrying toward the basket, particularly with Comisky knowing she could have clinched the contest in regulation, but missed.
Halting her run near the three-point arc, with a triple definitely possible, Comisky instead whipped a pass down to Haselroth, who was unguarded after her own sprint forward. Catching the ball in stride, Haselroth whirled against the grain back to her left, and in one motion lofted the game-winning layup in just before the buzzer.
“Yeah, we drew that up,” Wright said grinning. “That was a play for the inbounder to jet up the middle and Bri just made a perfect pass, Savannah made a great layup.”
“We did have things going from Taiah and Bri, but it was a team win.”
Bobcats junior guard Laci Brunson’s long two-point jumper before Comisky’s last-second miss had initially sent the nonleague action into overtime with the score deadlocked at 58.
But after Comisky then cashed a three in OT, Ignacio clawed ahead, 62-61, via a free throw from senior Elisia Cruz – shooting for teammate Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga, whose left eye injured by the foul – and a clutch trey by junior forward Harmony Reynolds.
Crucial to the “team” aspect Wright noted, senior reserve Siren Utecht responded with a layup, and after Reynolds then netted her final two points, Wilson again leveled the score at 64-all with a free throw. The ’Cats – who came into the game having shocked 2A Southern Peaks Leaguers Del Norte 38-34 the night before – elected to milk the clock as much as possible in hopes of leaving “The Jungle” victorious.
“In the second half, we came out much more intense,” Wright said. “We had a little talk in the locker room about intensity and about effort, and staying committed as a team. And if we play as a team, it allows for our role players to really have opportunity. And that was, really, the difference.”
All told, Comisky finished with 19 points – 17 after halftime – to pace Cortez. Wilson booked 16 (12 after halftime). Utecht recorded all six of her points after halftime, and both senior Moshai John and sophomore Kayce Tom ended up with six points also. Junior Carlie McClellan tallied five, while Haselroth and senior Kaydence Tom each scored four.
Impressive at both ends from start to finish, Reynolds racked up a game-high 23 points in defeat – a massive improvement from her eight-point output at DNHS. Brunson totaled 14 and senior Avaleena Nanaeto, herself able to torch the Lady Tigers for 17 points, managed 11 against Montezuma-Cortez – which led 6-5 after the first quarter, but then trailed 26-20 through two and 40-39 after three.
Mendoza-Lechuga and Marissa Olguin each finished with five points, Cruz logged four, and reserve Maci Barnes, two.
Up next, Ignacio (7-9 overall) will conclude 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play Friday at 2A Telluride and Saturday at home versus 2A Dolores.
“I think we’re ready to go,” Nanaeto said. “We’ve got our motivation now, so we’re going to try to push harder. Just don’t give up – that’s what we were talking about in the locker room: Don’t give up and try your best.”
M-CHS (9-9, 2-6 3A Intermountain), meanwhile, was scheduled to visit Mancos on Thursday and then begin preparing for the IML District Tournament’s Feb. 22 ‘pigtail’ game against Bayfield (1-17, 0-8).
“We’re almost at full speed,” Wright said. “Kalea Hunt … I’m not sure what’s up with her knee (Hunt possibly hurt her previously-injured left knee with 6:52 left in the second quarter), but we’re almost at full speed. We’re looking to make an impact and hopefully get into the (IML District) tourney.”