Spending the first seven games on the road will test the mettle of any team. Add to that, a young roster competing in one of the deepest leagues in the 3A classification, and there’s sure to be a learning curve. Finally playing in front of their home fans, the Montezuma-Cortez boys basketball team made major strides forward against a pair of league front-runners, challenging Alamosa for four quarters in a 64-55 loss before running out of steam against Centauri in an 81-49 defeat.
M-CHS head coach Mike Hall’s squad jumped out to a 5-3 lead early against the fifth-ranked Falcons and looked to stymie the most prolific scoring team in the 3A Intermountain League. However, as had been the challenge for the Panthers during the early-season road trip, turnovers began to mount for an offense that likes to run and gun.
Centauri punished the Panthers (1-9, 0-5 3A IML) for those miscues, running off a 19-2 scoring streak to wrap up the opening quarter, with a number of transition buckets coming directly from steals.
Not to be deterred, however, the Panthers turned to the perimeter in the second frame, as senior Josh Chupp dropped in triples on a couple of successive trips for the Panthers to keep them within reach, trailing 27-13. However, Falcon guards Baron Holman and Trey Crowther showed why Centauri (9-0, 5-0 3A IML) figures to enter next month’s state tournament as one of the teams to watch. The duo combined to tally 22 first-half points, nearly matching the entire Panthers output in the opening 16 minutes, as the Falcons took a 43-23 lead to the break.
While the second half featured plenty more Centauri offense, Hall had to be thrilled with his team’s aggressiveness attacking the rim in the second half. A pair of sophomores, Sawyer Smith and Gabriel Crowley, dazzled the home crowd with their determination to get to the basket. Smith joined Chupp with team-high honors with 10 points, while Crowley provided a pair of eye-popping assists to join a pair of acrobatic lay-ups in a second half offensive flurry for the home team.
Ultimately, though, Holman’s 19 points led a parade of four Falcons finishing in double figures, as Centauri completed the regular season sweep of the Panthers.
Friday night’s meeting with Alamosa brought some of the best basketball of the season out of the Panthers, as they fought toe to toe with the Mean Moose (6-2, 3-1 3A IML) before falling by nine points, 64-55.
Junior Trinidad McDonell incited a strong first half from the Panthers, as he scored all eight of his points in the second quarter to keep the Panthers within four at the half, 33-29.
Chupp showed the hot hand from beyond the arc in the second half, knocking in two of his four three-pointers in a tightly contested third quarter, where the Panthers kept the deficit at 48-44 heading to the fourth.
Junior John Carver put in another solid night, doing most of his damage from the free throw line, as he tallied nine of his game-high 17 points from the charity stripe.
Alamosa had an answer for every M-CHS run, though, as Damian Orozco and Kane Absmeier scored big buckets late in the game to help the Mean Moose escape with the win.
The Panthers will take on Montezuma County rival Mancos on Tuesday, Feb. 23 before returning to league play against Bayfield two days later.