Ignacio’s Gabe Cox jump-steps through the defense of Montezuma-Cortez’s Isaak Lewis (30) during IML action Thursday night, February 16, at Montezuma-Cortez. Cox totaled ten points in a tight 34-32 road loss, but provided valuable rebounding.
Ignacio's Dylan McCaw (0) leans back for a jumper over Montezuma-Cortez's Isaak Lewis during IML action Thursday night, February 16, at M-CHS. McCaw scored six points in a tight 34-32 road loss.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
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Bobcats lose regular-season finale, 34-32

Defense not enough at Montezuma-Cortez

As dramatic as the finish Thursday night, Feb. 16, inside raucous Montezuma-Cortez High School gymnasium ended up being, both basketball teams’ bosses seemed quite amazed that 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 0:03.7 left in the fourth quarter all but clinched victory – even though Ignacio’s Devante Montoya managed to rebound a teammate’s missed desperation three-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,” said Hall. “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.”

“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 three-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 3A 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 3A M-CHS’ lead to 32-26 with 4:22 remaining.

Cox (10 points) managed another basket despite the Panthers began milking the clock when possible, 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 tie-breaker 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 were expected to next see action in the aforementioned tournament’s play-in phase Tuesday, Feb. 21. Results, however, were unavailable at press time.

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