Panthers come back, but come up short

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Briston Walker steals the ball from Nate Atencio Tuesday night. Walker scored a team high 22 points against Durango. The Panthers came up short in overtime, 69-66.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

Briston Walker swished a 3-pointer to pull the Panthers within a point in the final moments of overtime.

The spirited home blackout crowd cheered loud and proud Tuesday night at Ron Wright Memorial Gym.

But in the waning seconds, the Panthers needed one more 3. Brackin Whiteskunk's 3-point attempt at the buzzer clanked off the rim and the Panthers came up short to the rival Durango Demons, 69-66.

"We couldn't get this one," said Walker, who suited up in his road black uniform with the rest of his team for the school's "blackout" theme. "I don't think it's because they're playing better than us. I think we're just hurting ourselves. We could have got more box outs and got (more) offensive rebounds."

A classic rivalry game for the ages, the Panthers and Demons needed more than 32 minutes to settle the score at Montezuma-Cortez High School.

The Panthers (5-12, 2-6 4A Southwestern League) trailed 49-41 late in the fourth quarter and forged another late home comeback.

Alex Lopez found Whiteskunk open for 3 and the sharpshooter delivered to put M-CHS on top 50-49, capping a 9-0 run. Durango (13-4, 6-2 SWL) answered back when Nick Hamlin scored in the low post to put the Demons up 1.

It was tied 53-53 at the end of regulation, and the rivals battled back-and-forth in the extra frame. But in the end, Durango's William Frownfelter and Ty Elliott sank their free throws to ultimately sink M-CHS. Overtime turnovers and defensive miscommunication proved costly for the home team as well.

"I just told the boys, 'We'll get them back in the district tournament,'" Panthers coach Cory Gropp said. "I don't think Durango beat us. I think we beat ourselves. There's a couple times where we told the boys to 'Stop trying to go over the screen on (No.) 3 (Frownfelter).' He just kept getting jump shot after jump shot."

The Panthers started slow, falling behind early in the first quarter, 7-0. M-CHS got back in the game attacking the Demons press and getting ahead of the defense for easy layups.

Lopez penetrated the Durango D and bounce passed the rock to Whiteskunk for the deuce, giving the Panthers their first lead at 15-13.

Walker and Lopez led the attack in the second quarter, as M-CHS built a 29-24 cushion. But Durango responded with five straight to tie the game at 29 going into the break at halftime.

Walker and Frownfelter exchanged outside shooting blows in the third quarter. Durango took a 43-39 lead into the fourth, setting up the game's final fireworks that received a 4-minute overtime encore.

"I can't question how hard the boys played. They played hard tonight," Gropp said. "Briston stepped up and hit a couple 3s for us. That was clutch. He's been playing at a high level."

Walker led a trio of Panthers that scored in double figures with 22 points. Whiteskunk and Lopez each had 19 and 15, respectively.

"We've been doing really good. We're starting to play as a team instead of individually," Walker said. "We're going to go hard these next two games and try to win them."

Frownfelter recorded a game high 26 points for the visiting Demons.

The Panthers conclude the regular season Friday and Saturday at home versus league foes Grand Junction and Montrose at 7:30 and 1:30 p.m.

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