Lady Panthers claw to 1st win
M-CHS girls basketball team battles Warriors, come away victorious
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
That's what happened Friday night at Ron Wright Memorial Gym.
The hapless Lady Panthers appeared to be headed for another loss on the basketball court.
Grand Junction Central led 49-35 early in the fourth quarter and looked as if it was already looking ahead to its next game.
Warriors coach Mary Doane put in her reserves to give her starters rest, feeling that the game was in the bag.
Senior sharpshooter Miranda Elliott sparked Montezuma-Cortez High School with a 3-pointer to cut the Warriors' lead to 49-38.
All of a sudden, the M-CHS deficit shrunk to 49-44. With the Central starters back in, the Lady Panthers clawed and scratched on defense, forcing turnovers that led to points in transition.
M-CHS was within four at 53-49 when Elliott drew a foul with 42 seconds left. The senior captain calmly sank both free throws and it was just 53-51.
After a Warriors offensive foul, Naomi Pinnecoose tied the game at 53 driving baseline for 2.
Central called timeout with 18 seconds to go and inbounded the ball at half court. Nicole Demby and Pinnecoose swarmed the Central ball handler with suffocating defense.
"She (coach Justine Bayles) told Nicole and Naomi to set a screen on the ball handler," M-CHS freshman guard Simone Lopez said. "She knew the ball handler would give it away."
Give it away indeed.
Lopez stole the bounce pass at center court and had daylight in front of her. The freshman took it coast-to-coast and calmly laid it in with four seconds remaining to put M-CHS on top 55-53.
The Warriors didn't get a final shot off, as the buzzer sounded and the Lady Panthers bench stormed the court in celebration.
"Finally," said third-year M-CHS coach Justine Bayles about her team's first win of the season.
It was the first home game of the season for M-CHS (1-14, 1-6 5A/4A Southwestern League). The Lady Panthers definitely gave their home fans something to cheer about.
"Every girl contributed," Bayles said. "It really was a team effort and that's what it takes. Everyone played defense, and knew what their job had to be and did what they had to do to get a stop (in the end)."
It's been a frustrating year for 4A M-CHS. But on Friday night, the Lady Panthers simply wanted it more and finally got to celebrate.
"We didn't give up," Elliott said. "We stayed strong, home court, first win - it doesn't get any better than that."
M-CHS avenged a 65-17 loss to 5A Central (5-14, 1-6 SWL) on Jan. 19. Oh and how sweet revenge tasted.
"We know how it feels now to go through a whole game without giving up," Elliott said. "Everyone thinks of us as the underdog. They're the big old 5A schools and so they think, 'We're going to beat them. No doubt in mind.' We just came out with a boom!"
The Lady Panthers were fired up and did start fast, scoring 11 of the game's first 15 points. M-CHS led 11-10 after one quarter of play and maintained its 1-point at halftime up 26-25.
However, the Lady Panthers started the second half slow and were out-scored 18-5 in the third quarter. M-CHS trailed 43-31 going into the final frame and was down 49-35, before finishing the game on a 20-4 run to win.
Elliott led the way with a game high of 20 points. Lopez chipped in seven.
"I'm so proud of Randy (Miranda) for just stepping up. That's what we need from her," Bayles said about Elliott. "I'm just happy that she was able to play through an entire game and really show where her talent lies. I'm really proud of the game she played."
On Saturday, the Lady Panthers appeared emotionally hungover against second-place Fruita Monument.
The Lady Wildcats scored the first 12 points and never looked back on the way to a convincing 66-23 win.
Pinnecoose paced M-CHS with seven points in defeat.
The Lady Panthers are back at home tonight to host rival Durango (10-6, 3-4 SWL) at 5:30.
Sam Green/Cortez Journal