CORTEZ — As Montezuma-Cortez athletic director Dave Robinson announced the starting lineups Wednesday night, Bayfield freshman Maddy Oltmanns wasn’t sure if she should come or go.
Robinson was unaware that, at the time, Wolverines sophomore Macee Schultz wasn’t actually on the visitors’ bench; a twisted ankle suffered during drills preceding the 3A Intermountain League girls basketball tournament pigtail contest had sent the center back to the training room. And when the time came for the introductions, Schultz was still a no-show — leaving Oltmanns to hesitantly step out in her stead, appearing unsure if she in fact was head coach Josh Kitchen’s emergency selection.
But while the host Montezuma-Cortez Panthers were presented, Schultz made her return and quickly removed her warmup shirt while both teams huddled one last time, knowing she’d square off against Cortez’s Paige Yarbrough for the opening tip.
But it quickly became clear jumping would be painful; Yarbrough easily won Montezuma-Cortez the initial possession and would prove the dominant force inside while also showing a nice shooting touch from 15 feet out. Steadily racking up a game-high 15 points, the 6-foot sophomore was the only player in double figures, as M-CHS ended BHS’ season 45-25.
“I was proud of the girls though; obviously, it’s not how we want to finish the season, but I thought they played hard the whole way and that’s really all we’ve ever asked of them: to play hard,” said Kitchen. “It sucks to lose, but credit to Cortez; they played well and I honestly think they just shot better than us tonight. And when you can’t hit shots, it’s hard to win games.”
Schultz actually booked the night’s first two points but, almost on cue, Yarbrough countered. A basket by sophomore Madison Wells and two free throws by sophomore Brooke Merchant gave Bayfield a 6-2 advantage before Yarbrough scored another two points and junior guard Hayden Leggett cashed a 3-pointer to give the Panthers their first lead.
After going up 9-6 going into the second quarter, Cortez freshman Bri Comisky swished consecutive 3-pointers to briefly fortify Montezuma-Cortez’s advantage at 15-9.
“She’s quick, aggressive and not scared to shoot in big moments,” Robinson said. “Definitely helped us, for sure.”
BHS sophomore forward Cayanne Carlson hit consecutive jumpers to bring the Wolverines back to 15-13 before Cortez broke the game open with an 11-0 run, keyed by a 3 and six total points by junior forward Presley Frost to sprint into halftime ahead 26-13.
Montezuma-Cortez outscored Bayfield 11-4 during the third quarter and cruised into the final frame holding a 37-17 lead.
“You know, we turned the ball over too many times, and Cortez capitalized on that,” Kitchen said. “But it’s a team problem; we do that together. If we’re going to make mistakes, it goes from the girls all the way up to me. Obviously, I didn’t draw up the right play or put us in the situations for them to make those decisions.”
Frost totaled eight points for M-CHS. Oltmanns and Merchant ended up leading Bayfield with six points each, while Carlson finished with four and Schultz a gutsy five.
“She’s all heart,” said Kitchen. “She was hurting. To her credit, she got (the ankle) wrapped, and she was out there playing. Outside of foul trouble, I would have played her the whole game, so I’m really proud of her. She works so hard, wants it so bad, and that’s what’s going to make us successful in the future.”
Having tied Montezuma-Cortez for fourth in the IML with a 3-7 record but with a minus-7 point differential in a split of their two regular-season meetings, the Wolverines finished 2018-19 standing 7-13 overall while Montezuma-Cortez improved to 8-10 before hosting top-seeded Pagosa Springs (17-2, 10-0 IML) this weekend in one of the district’s semifinals.
“Considering how young we are, and considering that we lost pretty significant players in the off-season, whether it be seniors or girls that moved or a lot of different things, I’m incredibly proud of our girls,” Kitchen said. “We have a ton of potential, and the girls are committed. They’re going to work hard in the summer, and we’re going to come back next year, and I think we might surprise some people”