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Mancos basketball team wins thriller over M-CHS

Career-best performance by senior Anthony Medina lifts Bluejays to one-point victory

Facing off against Montezuma-Cortez High School Thursday night, the Mancos High School basketball team was not supposed to win. Schools with 125 students are not supposed to defeat schools nearly five times their size.

But thanks to expert game planning by up-and-coming second-year head coach Elijah Knepper and a surprising scoring effort by senior Anthony Medina, the Bluejays walked away with a surprising 61-60 victory.

“Obviously, it’s huge,” said Knepper, when asked to describe the significance of his team’s win. “I thought we competed our (butts) off tonight. I don’t want to say that (the win) is a program changer because we don’t want it to define us, but it feels really good.”

Among the decisions that factored heavily into the Mancos victory was Knepper’s decision to employ a box-and-one defense against M-CHS senior Teagan Whiteskunk, who has ranked as one of the state’s top scorers in recent seasons.

Chased by sophomore Connor Showalter throughout much of the evening and swarmed by multiple defenders every time he touched the ball, Whiteskunk scored five points, which represented the senior’s lowest scoring output since his freshman season.

“One of our keys to the game was to contain number 30,” Knepper said, when asked about Whiteskunk. “We had a bunch of different looks that we were ready to throw at him. Fortunately, we just had to use the box-and-one on him. It was an unbelievable effort slowing him down; he’s a great player.”

Also factoring significantly in the Mancos victory was a somewhat unexpected offensive outburst by senior Anthony Medina, who matched the physicality of M-CHS’ post players while scoring a team-high 18 points.

Prior to Thursday night, Medina, who stars as a football player and has generally come off the bench for the Bluejays’ basketball team, had scored in double digits only twice in his high school career.

“This was probably the biggest game that we’ve ever won while I’ve been here,” Medina said. “Coming out and beating a really good (Class 3A) school just around the corner, it’s a good feeling. Our team really hustled.”

While Medina ended up as the Bluejays’ top scorer, the early stages of the contest was dominated Connor Showalter, who knocked down two early 3-pointers and scored six of his 14 total points during a first quarter that ended with Mancos leading 20-17.

The Bluejays continued to dictate the pace in the second quarter and entered halftime leading 32-28 in spite of five points and several steals by M-CHS senior Adrian Mark, whose quickness and athleticism presented difficulties for Mancos’ guards.

A strong first half from Titus Jackson also allowed M-CHS to stay close as the senior consistently attacked the rim and staked his claim to the title of best athlete on the floor while scoring 11 of his game-high 22 points in the first quarter.

“Titus had a great game,” M-CHS head coach Michael Hall said. “They did a box-and-one on Teagan the whole night, so Titus had to pick up a lot more of the scoring and he did. He had a good all-around game.”

As the game hung in the balance early in the second half, the Bluejays did their best to feed the ball to Caden Showalter, and the senior responded with several assists and four of his 12 total points.

Meanwhile, the Panthers offense got its scoring punch from senior Blake Keetch, whose deft shooting touch and nine third-quarter points allowed M-CHS to carry a 45-43 lead into the fourth quarter.

With noise reverberating off of the walls of Mancos’ newly renovated historic gym and fans on both sides cheering their teams’ every move, the fourth quarter got underway with M-CHS initially seizing momentum and extending its lead to 51-47 after a jumper by Jackson.

After the teams traded buckets during much of the next three minutes, Mancos junior Christian Cova, who had been trading trash talk with several M-CHS players throughout the second half drained a corner 3-pointer to give his team a 60-57 lead with 2:20 left in the contest.

“Oh yeah, I love it when people talk to me,” said Cova, who scored 13 points in the contest. “It just hypes me up. It’s good.”

A pair of clutch free throws by Keetch with 1:32 left in the game allowed M-CHS to cut its deficit to 60-59, and just over a minute later, with Mancos leading 61-60, Jackson drove into the lane and was fouled with nine seconds left in the game.

Jackson missed both of his free throws but rebounded his second miss and gave his team one final opportunity. As the senior drove into the lane however, he was called for a charge and Mancos regained possession with 5 seconds left.

After Caden Showalter was fouled and missed two free throws with 3.9 seconds left, M-CHS had a final chance at a win, but was forced to settle for a wild 3-pointer by Mark that missed the rim as time ran out.

As Mancos players gathered near center court and enthusiastically celebrated one of their team’s biggest wins in recent memory, fans roared their approval as if to announce that the Bluejays’ basketball program is officially back on the map.

“Man, I don’t think I’ve ever been in front of a crowd this loud in Mancos,” Caden Showalter said. “It’s awesome because we have the new gym, and the older dome makes it sound so good. It’s loud – you can barely hear the coach – but it’s nice.”

While the win proved to be a big one for Mancos, which will enter Christmas break with a 4-2 record overall, the game left the M-CHS searching for ways to improve heading into the new year.

“We have a lot of learning to do,” Hall said. “Whenever we get in pressure situations, we turn into a one-on-one basketball team. We’ve got to stop that and rely on our teammates to pass the ball. Our defense was a lot better tonight than it has been in the past, but we have a lot of improvements to make.”

Next up for the Bluejays will be a home game against Center High School on Jan. 10. The Panthers will play their next game at home against Durango on Jan. 10.