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Montezuma-Cortez Panthers begin week on hot streak

Montezuma-Cortez's Keeley Clark (26) wards off Ignacio's Anaya Lucero while turning to pursue an unclaimed ball Saturday, April 15, at M-CHS. The Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Bobcats 6-1. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal
Win over Ignacio is Panther’s fourth in a row

Considering Bayfield’s struggles three days before, on the road against a potent Class 2A team looking to return to the postseason – now less than a month away – if there was ever a time for Montezuma-Cortez’s girls to vie for the 3A Southwestern League lead, it would have been Monday, April 17.

With the match versus the Lady Wolverines (4-2, 3-0 SWL) moved back a calendar day, the accelerating Lady Panthers (4-3, 2-0) were to step onto their home pitch gunning for a fifth consecutive victory as well as an upper hand in the SWL standings.

“We know it’s going to be a test,” M-CHS head coach Reese Smith had said on the 15th, after his side’s 6-1 conquest of Ignacio – in which the visitors trailed 5-0 at halftime on a cloudless and sunny, but breezy and chilly afternoon. “The jigsaw puzzle of everything’s coming together, you know?”

Montezuma-Cortez's Jordi Mahler (30) leads a rush upfield during action Saturday, April 15, against Ignacio at M-CHS. Mahler scored three goals in the Lady Panthers' 6-1 victory. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal
Montezuma-Cortez's Jordi Mahler (30) blocks a clearing pass attempted by Ignacio's Autumn Sage (23) during action Saturday, April 15, at M-CHS. Mahler scored three goals (at far left, Sophia Shepard, No. 3, scored two) in the Lady Panthers' 6-1 victory. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal
Montezuma-Cortez's Emily Howell (27) prepares to maneuver and evade Ignacio's Trinity Crane (3) during action Saturday, April 15, at M-CHS. The Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Bobcats 6-1. Joel Priest/Special to The Journal

“Our first three games … we were not communicating, I felt,” he continued, alluding to early losses – all at home, no less, but all at least competitive in nature – to 2A powers Ridgway and Telluride, as well as Delta, last season’s 3A Western Slope runner-up and the 32-team State Tournament’s No. 14 seed. “Now I’m like a bull in a china shop, I’m so excited!”

Results against Bayfield were unavailable by press time for Wednesday’s Journal.

Against IHS (0-6, 0-2 2A Intermountain-South), senior Sophia Shepard scored the first goal in only the sixth minute, then registered the second in the 10th after intercepting a pass near the edge of the Lady Bobcats’ 18-yard box. She then assisted on sophomore Jordi Mahler’s 17th-minute goal, putting Montezuma-Cortez up by an intimidating 3-0 margin.

Not long after, Ignacio’s Jillian Middlebrook was called for a blindside shove on a M-CHS attacker threatening to make a play near the guests’ net, and a penalty kick was awarded. Stepping to the spot, Mahler made no mistake going 1-on-1 with goalkeeper Trinity Strohl and increased the Lady Panthers’ lead to 4-0 in the 22nd minute.

Assisted by junior Anna Jenson, Mahler completed her hat trick in the 27th and the Panthers – who’d notched a 2-0 win at Alamosa the previous afternoon – managed to keep the ’Cats off the scoreboard through the rest of the regulation 40 minutes and into a fourth of stoppage time.

After being out-shot by an unofficial 16-1 margin (12-1 shots-on-goal) before intermission, Ignacio at last broke through when senior Harmony Reynolds gained possession near the scorer’s table at midfield, sped along the sideline all the way into striking range, and then put IHS’ first second-half attempt past goalie Aubrey Rutherford in the 43rd minute.

“I always tell Aubrey, ‘Don’t worry about goals.’ There’s 10 other people on the field, and the ball got past 10 other people – she understands that,” said Smith. “She’s aggressive – that’s what you need – and she’s just a sophomore; a couple more years, and I think she could be all-atate.”

And just two minutes later, the Bobcats’ thrill was gone.

M-CHS junior Janae Boyd led a rush deep into the offensive end, and drew Strohl far off her line. Strohl managed to deflect the ball before it really became a shot, but the ball skittered away to Strohl’s left, and senior Carlie McClellan arrived to boot it into an unguarded net for the locals’ sixth goal.

Unofficially, Strohl saved 10 of M-CHS’ 16 shots on goal; Rutherford stopped three of Ignacio’s four. The Lady Panthers also gained seven corner kicks to the Lady Bobcats’ three in the non-league clash.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Montezuma-Cortez will travel Thursday, April 20, to IHS for a 4 p.m. start completing the varsities’ 2023 trilogy, and then head to Ridgway on the 25th for a 4 p.m. rematch with Trevor Peterson’s Lady Demons.