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Montezuma-Cortez senior send-off comes in victory over Ignacio

Montezuma-Cortez senior Markylla Jones drives to the basket against Ignacio's DaLaney Wesner in a contest at M-CHS. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Panthers make early lead hold up against Bobcats

Right from the opening tip, it felt like it was always going to be the Panthers night.

With all five seniors on the floor getting the starting nod on the night dedicated in their honor, head coach Brad Wright watched as his daughter India and four classmates kicked off the night of festivities on the right foot.

M-CHS (9-8, 5-4 4A/3A IML) wasted no time hitting the accelerator, scoring the game’s first eight points on their way to a 51-40 victory Friday over Ignacio, a win that ensures the Panthers their highest ever finish in IML play since joining the league a decade ago.

Fittingly, the seniors paced the Panthers at both ends of the floor, as Markylla Jones and Kayce Tom accounted for 13 points in a 20-7 blitz in the opening quarter to give the Panthers all the momentum. The lead would grow to 30-12 behind classmate Savannah Haselroth’s big second quarter – seven of her twelve coming in the frame – as the Panthers looked prepped to run away with the game.

The Panthers' senior cheerleaders, along with senior basketball players, earned recognition as part of the Senior Night festivities in Cortez. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Brad Wright embraces his daughter, senior India Wright, during the Senior Night celebrations at M-CHS. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal

Ignacio’s Darlynn Mendoza had other ideas, keeping the Bobcats in the game with a late flurry right before the half to keep the visitors within earshot. Mendoza poured in 10 of her team-high 15 in the second quarter, and the ‘Cats pulled within 32-21 at the break.

Bobcat head coach Trae Seibel had Ignacio (7-10, 3-5 4A/3A IML) believing they could continue their comeback in the third quarter as senior Solymar Cosio scored to bring the margin to single-digits.

On Senior Night, it was a pair of juniors that would reverse the trend and get the Panthers back in firm control, as Taylor Whited severed off perimeter passes from the Bobcats and turned the steals into quick points. Classmate Kalea Ogo added a big three-pointer in the third quarter, helping the Panthers restore a healthy lead.

Sophomore Sariah Jackson scored an acrobatic bucket midway through the fourth quarter that allowed the Panthers to begin to celebrate, as the defense carried the Panthers across the finish line with their fourth straight IML victory.

Senior Trenity Tillahash joined Wright, Jones, Haselroth, and Tom as part of the emotional celebration in the postgame, with the five Panthers honored alongside the senior cheerleaders and boys’ team members.

Jones and Haselroth finished with 12 points apiece, while Whited accounted for all 11 of her points in the second half. Jackson scored six and Tom added five points in the comprehensive victory.

Ignacio freshman Maliyah Martinez scored seven points in the fourth quarter to accompany Mendoza’s scoring outburst, while Cosio added six.

An afternoon later, the Panthers nearly completed their revenge-tour of IML opposition, but struggled in the second half of a 60-37 loss to Pagosa Springs.

As the Panthers continue to climb the ranks in the 3A classification, the program is closing in on locking up their first regional appearance since 2009-10. Up ahead, games against Mancos (Feb. 13) and Ignacio (Feb. 15) wrap up the regular season before the Intermountain League district tournament in Bayfield over the final weekend of February. Their road meeting with the Bluejays will be available on local radio station 98.7 FM KRTZ and krtzradio.com.