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Panthers nip Bobcats on Senior Night, 34-32

Frost, Leonard boost M-CHS off bench
Montezuma-Cortez’s Austin Wood, right, battles Ignacio’s Eppie Quintana for a rebound during IML action Thursday at M-CHS. Wood was held scoreless on Senior Night, but the Panthers pulled out a 34-32 win. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

As dramatic as the finish Thursday inside raucous Montezuma-Cortez High School Gymnasium ended up being, both basketball teams’ bosses seemed amazed the final score turned out being so low.

Even M-CHS head coach Michael Hall, his side prevailing 34-32 after two Isaak Lewis free throws with 0:03 left in the fourth quarter all but clinched victory – even though Ignacio’s Devante Montoya managed to rebound a teammate’s missed desperation 3-pointer and net a buzzer-beating deuce.

“We’re getting good looks, and our defense is always pretty decent. We’ve just got to score the ball,” Hall said. “That’s never been an issue for us, but in the first half I think we missed 14 layups; we’ve got to score.”

“Ignacio … they’re a good team; I don’t want to take anything away from coach Valdez’s boys – they played us hard. And I hate playing against him; he’s such a good coach, zones us up (defensively) and hurts us.”

Montezuma-Cortez’s Miles Frost angles for a shot away from Ignacio’s Gabe Cox during IML action Thursday at M-CHS. Frost scored a game-high 12 points in a 34-32 win. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

“Defense has saved our butt all year,” IHS skipper Chris Valdez said. “And our problem is, we can’t put offense with it sometimes; our defense holds us in the game, and when we have a decent offensive effort we win. When we don’t, we lose. And that was tonight; when our offense … couldn’t hit shots, that cost us the game.”

Able to hold four of Hall’s special Senior Night starting five scoreless, the Bobcats began the second half the same way they’d begun the first – with an 8-2 run increasing a 16-13 halftime lead to 24-15 midway through the third quarter. But as Panther junior post Miles Frost’s buzzer-beating put-back baskets concluding the first and second quarters had already indicated, nothing would be over until it officially was.

Beginning with the first of sophomore guard Caidin Leonard’s two clutch 3-pointers and ending with the second, M-CHS rallied back to 24-23 with 2:15 still to play in the third. Neither squad gained or lost any more ground as time expired – with Bobcat senior guard Eppie Quintana’s last-ditch three-point try narrowly missing – and the 3A/4A Intermountain League action accelerated into the final eight-minute frame.

“Mental toughness. That’s all it’s about, you know?” Frost said. “You can’t lose yourself; you’ve got to keep your composure. This was what you’d expect to come out for; you’ve got to be ready for everything that comes your way.”

And Montezuma-Cortez (7-12 overall, 3-7 IML) certainly appeared to be. Lewis made a go-ahead trey with 6:19 to go, and Leonard then put the Panthers up 28-24 by rebounding and cleaning up sophomore Tay Wheat’s missed breakaway layup.

Contained effectively all game, junior center/forward Gabe Cox responded for Ignacio (5-14, 1-9) with a strong take to the hoop, but Leonard (10 points) countered with another layup. Wheat then crashed through a defender for a hard-earned two points, upping M-CHS’ lead to 32-26 with 4:22 remaining.

Cox (10 points) managed another basket despite the Panthers milking the clock, and junior Phillip Quintana (2 points) parlayed a Montoya steal into a basket at the other end, bringing the ’Cats back to 32-30 with 1:37 left. And that’s when things got nerve-wracking.

Put in the 1-and-1 with 53.1 ticks remaining, M-CHS couldn’t capitalize. Gabe Crowley, one of M-CHS’ five saluted seniors, twice missed the front end of the bonus, and Leonard did so with 25.6 to go. IHS then attempted to tie via a two-point shot by freshman Ambrose Valdez, but it was off-target and the rebound deflected off Phillip Quintana’s hand and out of bounds.

Poised to either dribble out the still-remaining 12.3 seconds, or get sent again to the foul line, the Panthers inexplicably gave the Bobcats one last realistic chance to at least send the contest into overtime when senior Austin Wood lost control of the rock near Ignacio’s bench. Fortunate that Montoya (4 points) was not given his fifth personal foul on the play, IHS inbounded with 9.6 to go, but Eppie Quintana couldn’t get a shot up through defenders Lewis and Crowley.

Forced to foul, he then did so – picking up his own disqualifying fifth and exiting with 10 points to his name.

Lewis then stepped to the charity stripe, did what needed doing most, and 3.7 ticks later, irrespective of Montoya’s heads-up cleanup, the home fans’ celebration went into overdrive. Likely securing a spot in the upcoming IML District Tournament, M-CHS avoided a tiebreaker scenario with Ignacio (still plus-3 offensively in going 1-1 against the Panthers) in the league standings.

“Feels really good,” said Frost, who came in off Hall’s bench – as did Leonard – to score a game-high 12 points, despite playing with a braced left thumb and deeply-bruised middle knuckle on his right hand. “The seniors, it’s their last year, and I’ve been playing with them since I was little. So I’ve wanted to give them everything I can this year.”

M-CHS’ only senior to score in the battle, Lewis totaled six points, as did Wheat.

In defeat, Bobcat senior forward/center Dylan McCaw provided IHS a third-quarter spark and finished with six points.

“He absolutely did,” Chris Valdez said. “When we couldn’t get the ball to Cox, we went to Dylan and Dylan was able to do some stuff … hit some nice shots. Our kids played hard and I’m proud of them. We’ll move forward from here.”

The ’Cats are expected to next see action in the league tournament’s play-in phase on Tuesday.

Bayfield boys 37, Alamosa 66

Able to stay relatively close to 4A No. 4 AHS through one quarter on Thursday, BHS struggled more in the second and went into halftime trailing 36-14, en route to a 66-37 road loss concluding regular-season play.

Sophomore Lincoln Williams paced the Wolverines (8-11, 2-8 IML) with nine points, including a trey, and senior Max Meyers scored seven. Seniors Jackson Queen and Caden Wood each booked six points, and senior Lance Mazur five as the visitors managed to win the fourth quarter 10-3.

For the league-champion Mean Moose (19-3, 9-1), junior Brant Jackson went off for 18 points and senior Luke Christensen logged 16.

Ignacio’s Dylan McCaw leans back for a jumper over Montezuma-Cortez’s Isaak Lewis during IML action Thursday at M-CHS. McCaw scored six points in a tight 34-32 road loss. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)