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Panthers bring high-flying tempo in early wins

Panthers senior Isaak Lewis scrambles for a loose ball with Monticello's Tommy Sheeran in a contest at M-CHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
M-CHS off to 4-0 start after sweeping home tournament

Outdoor track and field doesn’t officially start until early spring. But for head basketball coach Mike Hall, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers look to be in prime condition to turn each contest into a 94-foot track meet.

Racing up and down the floor at a head-spinning pace, the Panthers have opened the 2022-23 campaign with an energy that has left opponents gasping after 32 minutes of high-pressing, run-and-gun basketball.

After four games this season, M-CHS sits just one win shy of their 2021-22 win total (five), thanks to victories over Aztec (84-66), Newcomb (82-44), Grand County (65-54), and most recently over Monticello, 66-31.

“We’re wanting to be faster than the other team,” said junior Miles Frost of the program’s frenetic tempo. “As soon as we get the rebound, we’re looking to get out and run.”

Panthers junior Miles Frost goes up strong for a layup in a game against Monticello at M-CHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Panthers sophomore Caiden Leonard looks to pass the ball by Monticello defender Tommy Sheeran in a home contest at M-CHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
M-CHS head coach Mike Hall talks strategy with his team during a timeout in a contest against Monticello at M-CHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Panthers junior Easton Hartsoe elevates for a shot against Monticello's Mason Atwood in a game at M-CHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)

So far, the Panthers have executed the plan to a “T,” posting countless transition buckets while utilizing decisive runs to pull away in each of their four victories.

A 12-0 run late in the first quarter against Monticello broke open a tie game, giving the hosts a lead they would never relinquish. Sophomore Tay Wheat led the charge, flying out behind the defense for a number of lay-ins in the early burst.

When the Panthers had to settle into a half-court offense, M-CHS found ways to continue to get good looks at the rim. “We moved the ball and found the open spots,” said Frost.

The junior post put in six of his team-high 11 points in the second quarter, as the Panthers built a 36-22 lead heading into the break.

“We’ve really improved at looking to get the ball inside,” said Hall. “Miles (Frost) has really stepped up, he’s getting in good positions, and the guys are making good passes to find him.”

Frost and Wheat shared team-high honors in the scoring column, but it was the Panthers balance that continued to impress Hall.

“I like the way that we’ve had four or five guys who are giving us that scoring balance every night out,” said Hall. “They’re unselfish, and their speed is hard to match.”

Senior Austin Wood added 10 in the winning effort against Monticello, while junior Easton Hartsoe posted nine points, sophomore Caiden Leonard added eight, and senior Isaak Lewis dropped in seven for the Panthers offense.

On the defensive end, the Panthers stifled Monticello’s post game, holding the Bucks to a lone field goal in the third quarter, while forcing turnovers that led to quick run-outs the other way.

Unlike recent years, when the Panthers had to play most of their preholiday schedule on the road, four straight games in “The Jungle” allowed Hall’s group to showcase their exciting brand of basketball in front of the home supporters – allowing the Panthers to feed on the positive energy.

Next, M-CHS heads to Grand Junction for a series of three games Dec. 15-17 to build momentum into the four-week break between games.

“We’re doing this as a team,” added Frost, “There’s no room for anyone to be selfish out there – we know that we have to work hard together to continue to be successful.”

This article was updated Dec. 8 to correct the Panthers schedule.