Before the tipoff Feb. 23 against Mancos High School, Montezuma-Cortez High School basketball coach Michael Hall stood in his team’s locker room and spoke to his team about the importance containing Bluejays junior Connor Showalter.
Twenty minutes later, Panthers players took the court and did their best to contain the Bluejays star, but Showalter’s scoring prowess proved to be too much as he scored a career-high 31 points to lead his team to a 74-66 victory.
“We just had a game plan to try to stop Connor Showalter from getting the ball down low and having his way,” said M-CHS junior J.T. Carver. “We did a good job of that in the first half, but in the second half, we lost it, and he started getting going.”
While Showalter’s scoring and rebound prowess ultimately proved to be the difference in the game, he was far from the only Bluejays player that contributed on the offensive end as junior Edgar Hernandez scored 18 points, freshman Kail Wayman scored 13 points, and junior Evan Sehnert netted eight.
M-CHS was led offensively by Carver and sophomore Sawyer Smith, who scored 16 points each. Senior Dylan Kibel added 10 points to the Panthers’ cause, and sophomore Miles Frost chipped in eight.
“It was a great win for us honestly,” said Showalter. “Coming in here, being down at half, the environment is crazy. To come away with a win is really good for our team.”
Although Showalter began his scoring spree shortly after tipoff and netted eight points in the first quarter alone, M-CHS proved to be the aggressor throughout much of the first half and carried a 40-33 lead into the halftime break.
First-half highlights for the Panthers included a 3-pointer by Carver from the left corner on his team’s first offensive possession, and a long 3-pointer from nearly the same spot by sophomore Austin Wood midway through the second quarter that put M-CHS ahead 34-28.
“We wanted to keep the ball moving,” said Hall. “We knew that (Mancos) would be in their 1-3-1 trap. We had a good game plan. We moved the ball really well.”
Down seven points heading into the halftime break, the Bluejays attacked the offensive glass throughout the opening minutes of the second half and after several offensive rebounds by Showalter and a 3-pointer by Hernandez from the left corner, the score stood tied at 46.
A 6-2 run by Mancos to close the third quarter made the score 52-48 heading into the final eight minutes of play, and pretty passes by junior point guard Luika Cova to set up a layup by Wayman and a 3-pointer by Sehnert put Mancos ahead 57-48.
“I got the ball, and I was just trying to make a good play,” Cova said. “I saw them open, and I just got (the ball) there.”
Although it appeared that M-CHS was done, a late scoring spree by Smith made the game close down the stretch as the sophomore scored 12 points during the fourth quarter and cut his team’s deficit to 68-64 with under three minutes left.
A 3-point play by Showalter put Mancos back ahead by seven points however, and in spite of Smith’s late-game heroics, the Bluejays were able to hang on.
“Sawyer Smith came out in that fourth quarter and just put on a show,” Hall said. “The boys were feeding off of it, but we just could not get a rebound and we couldn’t get the ball back. We were just matching them bucket for bucket.”
With their record now at 1-10 overall and 0-5 in the Intermountain League, M-CHS will play at home against Bayfield on Feb. 25 before facing off against Pagosa Springs in Cortez on Feb. 27.
Next up for Mancos – 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the San Juan Basin League – will be a tough road matchup against Dove Creek on Feb. 26.