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Montezuma-Cortez comeback crushes Bobcats 45-40

Panthers erase 10-point pad in fourth
Montezuma-Cortez freshman Trey Hall (5) glides past Ignacio's Cayson Burcham (20) to attempt a baseline layup Thursday night. Montezuma-Cortez won 45-40. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

After one of the lowest-scoring first halves in recent memory Thursday at Ignacio High School Gymnasium, a boys basketball game finally broke out after halftime.

It left one side of the court roaring and the other reeling.

M-CHS junior guard Tay Wheat, who scored seven points in the first half, made a free throw with 6:04 left in the third quarter, and Easton Hartsoe, after rebounding Wheat’s missed second try, netted two points to give 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.

After a timeout, sophomore Ambrose Valdez received the inbounds pass, dribbled toward the top of the three-point arch, then lobbed the ball near the rim, where senior big Gabe Cox dunked it home. Webb then followed the two-handed jam with a butter-smooth 3-pointer, and Cox increased Ignacio’s lead to 21-15 after grabbing two offensive boards and netting a put-back of the second.

With 2:53 left, Panthers coach Mike Hall 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.

However, the Panthers, keyed by efforts from sophomore reserves Trace Hartsoe and Wyatt Oliver, Montezuma-Cortez went on a 10-2 run and cut the deficit to 32-20 with 4:03 on the clock. Pargin converted a pass from senior Devante Montoya into his third triple and gave Ignacio a five-point lead, 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, cutting Ignacio’s lead to 37-36, and Trey Hall then put M-CHS up 38-37 with 2:32 remaining. Valdez used a timeout, but 10 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 in 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 out-hustled 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,” Ignacio coach 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.”

Hitting 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.”

“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’s 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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