Mountains

Home sweet home

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

The Montezuma-Cortez Panthers celebrate after they came from behind in the final seconds to beat Fruita Monument at home Saturday afternoon.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

Alex Lopez had the ball up top and dribbled the clock down for Montezuma-Cortez to play for the last shot. The speedy point guard then found a wide open Tallon Ralstin beyond the arc on the right side.

Perhaps Ralstin was a little too wide open in the final seconds, as if the Fruita Monument defenders were daring him to shoot.

Not known for his outside shot, Ralstin squared up and let the basketball fly.

"When he passed me the ball, I didn't even think about it. I just shot it," he said.

The home crowd was gradually leaning off the edge of its seat, holding a collective breath as the orange, leather sphere rotated through the air. Then, the shot fell - swish!

"After it went in, I realized, that we went up, and everybody was yelling and it was awesome," Ralstin said.

Fruita's buzzer-beating desperation 3 fell well short of the rim and pandemonium ensued inside Ron Wright Memorial Gym on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers erased a 58-47 fourth quarter deficit and finished the game on a 15-1 run to win 62-59.

"They're starting to believe," M-CHS coach Cory Gropp said. "We're starting to gel together. I can't be more proud of these boys. They're starting to get that mental toughness."

Call em the comeback kids.

Montezuma-Cortez trailed Grand Junction Central by 11 points Friday night at the half and was down five in the fourth quarter. The Panthers rallied back and beat the Warriors, 46-44.

"These past two wins, is showing that we're starting to believe that we're a great team," Gropp said. "This is a great winning streak that we're going on and hopefully, we can carry it over."

The Panthers (5-11, 2-5 5A/4A Southwestern League) returned home to Montezuma-Cortez High School for the first time in nearly two months.

It was indeed home sweet home, as these Panthers are learning how to win and kept their postseason hopes alive and well.

"We set a goal before the season, that we wanted to make playoffs," Gropp said. "I firmly believe that we're going to do it."

Down 11 in the fourth quarter to 5A Fruita (8-13, 2-6 SWL) on Saturday, the Panthers rallied.

Seniors Lopez, Ralstin and Briston Walker sparked a 12-1 run to knot the score at 59.

Wildcats center Spencer Fair kicked the ball, turning over possession to the Panthers with 31 seconds remaining.

Gropp called timeout to setup the final play.

The defense closed in on Lopez when he dribble drove up the middle before kicking it out to Ralstin on the right wing.

The play worked.

M-CHS went 1-2 against Fruita this season, losing the two previous contests by a combined score of 139-78.

"All four years that I've been here, we've never beaten them. This is my first time. It's awesome," said Ralstin about knocking off Fruita. "It tastes sweet."

The Panthers opened the game on a 9-2 run and led by as many as 11 points in the first half. But back came the Wildcats behind Fair and Grant Stagg.

Fruita trimmed the Panthers' lead to one at 34-33 at halftime.

The Wildcats quickly grabbed their first lead to start the third quarter and didn't trail again, until Ralstin's winning 3.

M-CHS kept it close and was only down 49-45 at the end of the third. Brackin Whiteskunk put back a Konnar McGee miss to bring the Panthers within 49-47, before Fruita went on a 9-0 run. M-CHS then countered with its game winning run.

Whiteskunk had a team high 16 points, While Ralstin and Lopez recorded 15 apiece. Walker chipped in 10.

"Tallon missed a couple shots that were really close. But that shows a lot of his character, that he had the confidence to hit that 3," Gropp said.

Fair led the Wildcats with a game high 19.

GRAND JUNCTION

CENTRAL

On Friday, the Panthers trailed 5A Central (8-12, 3-4 SWL) 14-8 after the first quarter. M-CHS couldn't get its offense in rhythm and the visiting Warriors led 24-13 at halftime.

Behind Whiteskunk and Lopez, the Panthers battled back in the third quarter to trail just 29-24 going into the final stanza.

Down 31-24, M-CHS went on an 8-0 to take the lead after an old fashioned three-point play by Whiteskunk. The teams played back-and-forth from there.

M-CHS grabbed the lead for good at 42-41 at the 1:30 mark off a Whiteskunk layup.

Lopez finished with a game high 17 points and Whiteskunk scored 11.

"At halftime, coach said, 'Play like the team you can be'" Lopez said. "We came out the second half and played like we know we could. We're starting to believe we can play with these guys. We're starting to work harder and everything is starting to click."

The Panthers stay at home and welcome the rival Durango Demons tonight at 7.

"It's our biggest game of the year," Gropp said. "Everybody comes to this game. It's going to be nice to be at home. The boys feel good at home and we just got to keep playing like we have."

bobbya@cortezjournal.com.

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