During the first half of their home game against Bayfield on Feb. 27, the Montezuma-Cortez High School girls basketball team generated quality scoring opportunities on the offensive end and played stellar defense on the other side of the court.
A three-quarter court press that was employed by the previously winless Wolverines throughout the second half proved to be the Lady Panthers undoing however, as M-CHS fell 30-24 in front of a small group of local fans.
“In the first half, (M-CHS) did a really good job of packing it in and slowing us down and not letting us do the things that we wanted to do,” Bayfield head coach Josh Kitchen said. “The 1-3-1 (defense) opened things up for us a little bit and I think that’s ultimately what made the difference.”
Leading scorers for M-CHS included junior Justina Bayless, who scored nine of her 14 total points in the first half. Freshman Savannah Haselroth chipped in four points and sophomore Carlie McClellan and junior Siren Utecht had three.
Bayfield was led offensively by Madison Wells, who scored 14 points, and Cayenne Carlson, who scored seven. Rachel Kirk and Abria Theyer each had four points for the Wolverines.
While the ultimate result of the contest was not a positive one for the Lady Panthers, the team’s play during the opening half was impressive as Bayless and Haselroth attacked Bayfield defenders and helped their team build a 14-10 halftime lead.
The M-CHS defense was also solid as Bayfield struggled to generate quality scoring opportunities and turned the ball over on numerous occasions while looking disjointed in their half-court offensive sets.
“We came in with a pretty good idea of what they liked to do,” M-CHS head coach Brad Wright said. “We’re pretty limited to a zone defense because we don’t have the foot speed and strength to guard man-to-man. We tried to lock down and be really patient and stay married to our rotations. We wanted to make them work for everything and I thought we did a really good job of that.”
As the second half got underway with the Lady Panthers ahead by four points, Bayfield picked up its intensity and began employing a three-quarter-court 1-3-1 trapping defense that sought to cause turnovers and pick up the pace of the game.
Unable to figure out how to break press, M-CHS found itself on its heels and saw its lead shrink to 18-17 after Wells stole the ball in the backcourt and scored an unimpeded layup to cut her team’s deficit to 18-17.
“The girls know what they’re supposed to do,” said Wright, when asked about his team’s difficulties breaking Bayfield’s press. “We’ve gone over certain things and they know what their jobs are and what we expect of them. For whatever reason, we had a lot of mental collapse. I think a lot of that is inexperience and youth of our team.”
Although M-CHS began the fourth quarter ahead by a score of 19-17, the momentum of the contest had clearly shifted and Bayfield appeared to be in complete control as a transition layup by Carlson put the Wolverines ahead 23-21 with five minutes left.
Although a late 3-pointer by Bayless from the right wing cut what was a 28-21 Bayfield lead to four points with just over a minute to go, the Lady Panthers were unable to close the gap as Bayfield excitedly celebrated their first win of the season after the final buzzer sounded.
“It has been an interesting season to say the least,” Kitchen said. “The girls have worked really hard and we’ve been close a couple of times, so I’m really proud of their effort. They finished the game today, which was nice.”
With their record now at 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the Intermountain League, Bayfield will play its next game at home against Alamosa on Feb. 27.
M-CHS will put its 2-8 overall record and 1-5 IML record on the line when it hosts Pagosa Springs on Feb. 27.