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Ignacio senior Gabe Cox (21) jams down a lob pass from teammate Ambrose Valdez (22) for an intimidating two points Thursday night, Feb. 15, versus Montezuma-Cortez. It was the last regular-season game for both teams.
Ignacio senior Devante Montoya (11) dribbles low to maneuver around Montezuma-Cortez’s Tay Wheat (4) Thursday night, Feb. 15. It was the last regular-season game for both teams.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
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Crazy comeback crushes ’Cats, 45-40


M-CHS erases 10-point pad in fourth

Following one of the lowest scoring first halves in recent memory Thursday night, Feb. 15, inside a confused IHS Gymnasium, a boys’ basketball game finally broke out after halftime.

“I told them at halftime, it’s a baseball score up there!” Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez recalled afterwards with a laugh. “But we were holding them down on defense; that’s what we needed to do. And if we could score some points, you know, in the second half, and continue to play good defense … we could win!”

“He had his team ready to go,” said Montezuma-Cortez skipper Michael Hall, equally amazed that in the teams’ regular-season finale his Panthers trailed Valdez’s Bobcats 11-9 through 16 regulation minutes. “They were playing good defense, locked us up pretty hard. We couldn’t get a couple buckets to fall, but you’ve got to give Ignacio some credit; their defense was phenomenal – and that’s what happens.”

But what happened after the break ultimately left one side of the seats roaring and the other reeling.

The only Panther to really produce any sort of offense during the first half, recording seven points, M-CHS junior guard Tay Wheat made a free throw with 6:04 left in the third quarter, and after rebounding Wheat’s missed second try, senior Easton Hartsoe netted two points nabbing Montezuma-Cortez a 12-11 advantage. Wheat then sank two more FTs with 5:45 left, but IHS junior Coty Webb canned a tying three-pointer. Hartsoe countered with a go-ahead free throw, but after a Valdez timeout, the ’Cats were ready to go big plus tell the guests to go home.

Sophomore Ambrose Valdez received the inbounds pass restarting play, innocently dribbled towards the top of the three-point arch, then flat-passed a perfect lob near the rim where only senior big Gabe Cox could reach it … and coolly dunk it home, to the home fans’ delight. Striking while the iron was hot, Webb then followed the two-handed jam with a butter-smooth three, and Cox then increased Ignacio’s promising lead to 21-15 after grabbing two offensive boards on one possession and then netting a put-back of the second.

With 2:53 left, Hall wisely called a timeout, but despite M-CHS finishing out the quarter with five needed points, IHS put up another seven, with the last two coming via a Cox-assisted baseline layup by freshman Cayson Burcham.

“We were being way too soft,” Hall said, “and then in the fourth quarter they finally got a little momentum under them and got going.”

But not before the Bobcats began the final frame with junior Charley Pargin receiving a Cox pass in the corner and sinking his second three-ball in the contest – inflating Ignacio’s pad to a fairly-comfortable 30-20. Considering the ’Cats had also limited M-CHS freshman talent Trey Hall to just one third quarter free throw up to that moment, victory seemed in the cards.

Until the Panthers apparently snuck in a stacked deck.

Keyed by efforts from sophomore reserves Trace Hartsoe and Wyatt Oliver, Montezuma-Cortez went on a 10-2 run cutting the deficit down to 32-20 with 4:03 still left on the clock. Pargin responded well, converting a pass from senior Devante Montoya into his third triple – putting Ignacio back up by five points – but Oliver offset its effects with his own first strike from downtown.

“That shot Wyatt hit? That was incredible,” said Hall. “I have all the faith in the world in those kids (Oliver and Hartsoe) when they come off the bench. And they today did exactly what we’ve always told them to do and what they’re capable of doing.”

Wheat soon finished a successful three-point play, produced by a hard drive to the basket and Montoya foul, re-trimming Ignacio’s lead down to 37-36, and Trey Hall then put M-CHS up 38-37 with 2:32 remaining. Valdez used a timeout, but ten ticks later Ambrose Valdez fouled out – a certain blow to the boss’ backcourt configuration.

“Late in the game … that’s when you go to your seniors who can handle the ball – like they did,” Chris Valdez said, alluding to M-CHS’ reliance upon Wheat and Easton Hartsoe, enhanced by Trey Hall’s sudden eight-point impact during the fourth quarter. “They spread us out late in the game and they were able to go one-on-one against us, beat some of our younger kids, and … we were pushing the pace when we didn’t have to, doing things that we don’t have to do.”

After Valdez’s exit, Wheat fed Hall cutting through the paint for an easy layup and 40-37 lead, and Montezuma-Cortez all but secured a road win with only 34.6 ticks left. After Hall swatted away a Phillip Quintana three-point try, Wheat came to possess the rock at the other end of the court and draw a foul while shooting. Making his first FT but missing the second, Wheat outhustled all to collect the rebound for a deuce swelling the Panthers’ lead to a sufficient and shocking 45-38 before IHS clipped it to a final 45-40.

“We got a lead we should be protecting … and making them come to us,” Chris Valdez said. “That’s going to create one-on-ones for Cox … and we didn’t do that. Threw some bad passes here and there, I made some decisions I probably shouldn’t have, personnel-wise – we all took parts of the responsibility, and we’re going to move on.”

7-of-11 from the charity stripe, Wheat ended up totaling a game-high 22 points. Hall finished with nine, Oliver and Easton Hartsoe each booked five and Trace Hartsoe four as M-CHS improved to 7-12 overall, 4-6 in 3A/4A Intermountain League action after sweeping the scheduled home-and-home with Ignacio (7-12, 2-8).

Cox scored 13 points in defeat while Pargin ended up with nine, Webb six, Burcham and Quintana five each, and Montoya two as the Bobcats will go into the IML District Tournament on an unlucky three-game slide.

“Most likely we’ll be playing Bayfield,” said Valdez, pondering a pigtail-game pairing, “unless something happens, and we stay ahead of Cortez in the RPI – I can’t really imagine that happening. We’ve got to figure out a way to make sure we play until the end of a game.”

Indeed, the Bobcats were to host the Wolverines on Tuesday, Feb. 20, but results were unavailable at press time. Bracket play in the IML District Tournament will begin Friday the 23rd inside BHS Gymnasium. The Panthers, meanwhile, will next play there on the 23rd at 6:30 p.m. versus postseason inclusion Crested Butte, normally of the 3A/2A Southern Peaks League.

“Early on in league we got thumped a little bit, then the second half of league we’ve played a lot better against the bigger schools … competed with them,” Hall said, assessing his team’s playoff readiness. “And we’ve beat (both) Bayfield and Ignacio twice, and that’s been here at the end – so I think momentum is in our favor. And I told the boys, if we can start peaking at the end of the season things will be good for us. You know, I’m pretty excited how things are right now.”

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