One day after its season opening game was canceled because of snow, the Montezuma-Cortez High School overcame an 11-point first-quarter deficit and defeated Dolores High School, 64-46, on Jan. 27.
The contest at Dolores High School, with a small crowd limited by the pandemic, offered players the opportunity to test themselves in masks as mandated by the Colorado High School Activities Association.
While players said the masks made breathing and shooting more difficult, they were happy to engage in live-game action for the first time this season.
“It was pretty tough on the court, the masks can take a toll on you,” said M-CHS junior J.T. Carver, who scored a game-high 22 points. “I’m just happy with got the win. Last year, we probably had more talent, but this year, I trust every single person on the team. ... We are unselfish, and we get everybody involved. I think it’s going to be a good season.”
Although the result of the contest was positive for M-CHS, the opening minutes were anything but smooth for the Panthers as Dolores deftly ran its half-court offense and jumped to an 11-0 lead.
Keying the Bears’ burst were seniors Kevin Purkat and Hayden Tallmadge, who attacked the basket against the Panthers’ undersized defense while combining to score nine of their team’s first 11 points.
“We were a little surprised,” said M-CHS senior Ernie Padilla. “After the first five or 10 minutes, we started getting into it and getting a feel for the game again.”
Sparking the turnaround, Carver drained a long 3-pointer from the wing and hit free throws in the first 8 minutes.
Also, senior Dylan Kibel scored a strong put-back in the paint and a baseline 3-pointer to get things going.
“After we went down 11-0, (M-CHS head coach Mike Hall) called a timeout and sat us down,” Carver said. “He told us that we needed to slow stuff down, stop trying to play individual ball, get everyone involved, and play our game.”
Behind 16-15 to begin the second quarter after a 16-4 M-CHS run, Dolores regained its composure in its half-court motion offense, which freed Tallmadge to score seven of his team-high 14 points during the frame.
Among Tallmadge’s biggest buckets was an off-balance 3-pointer from the wing that he drained just before the halftime buzzer to ignite the home crowd and give Dolores a 27-24 lead heading into halftime.
Although the Bears seemed to have momentum at halftime, M-CHS turned the tide in the third quarter with hustle plays and two key steals by Padilla. Heading into the final 8 minutes, the Panthers led 43-34.
“We’re not very tall,” said Padilla, referencing the fact that no M-CHS player is over 6 feet, 1 inch tall. “If we all box out and go for rebounds, we should be able to get the ball and advance down the floor. We did a better job of that in the second half.”
M-CHS poured it on in the final quarter as Carver scored nine points in the final 8 minutes and sophomore Sawyer Smith added four.
Leading scorers for Dolores were Tallmadge with 14 points, Purkat with 10, and Tyler Nowlin with six. M-CHS was led by Carver with 22, Smith with 14 and Kibel with 7.
Now 1-0, M-CHS will prepare for a road matchup against Montrose on Jan. 30. Dolores will host Ouray on Jan. 29.
“We need to improve on our communication and we need to talk on the floor,” said Padilla. “We did a little bit of that tonight, but we can get a lot better.”