by David Tesitor
WALSENBURG, ORDWAY — The John Mall basketball team split a pair of games this past weekend. On Friday, the Cats defeated the Hoehne Farmers in an exciting, down-to-the-wire match-up, 49-43. The following night, the Panthers traveled to Ordway to face the Crowley County Chargers. The Panthers lost 70-59. They fell into a tie for third place with the Rocky Ford Meloneers in the Santa Fe league with a 2-2 record and 6-3 overall.
The Panther and Farmer game was neck-to-neck throughout most of the game, with neither team clearly dominating action. The largest deficit came after the Farmers hit two straight buckets to open up a 30-25 lead in the middle of the third quarter.
John Mall struggled under the boards, losing the rebound battle for most of the game until Dylan Tenorio battled underneath the boards late in the quarter for a follow-up bucket, bringing the Cats within three, 30-27. A late-quarter foul and bucket at the buzzer gave the Farmers a 33-27 lead going into the fourth quarter. That is when the Panthers went to work.
MichaelRyan Griego was fouled as the quarter opened and made his pair of shots from the charity line. Jacob Wiggins then stole the inbound pass and drove the lane for two, bringing the Panthers within two, 33-31. Following a Hoehne free throw, Tenorio kept the momentum going, with a bucket, bringing the Cats within one. Hoehne missed their chance to keep the lead when Clayton Berger came up with a monster defensive rebound. The Panthers were then set up by the next play when Vince Valdez fouled Griego.
By this point, the Panthers were in the bonus from the foul line. Griego sank both shots, giving the Panthers a 35-34 lead with 6:01 remaining in the game. Wiggins hit another bucket at the five-minute mark giving the Panthers a three-point lead, but the Farmers found a way to come back when Brandon Bechaver fouled Derrick Cordova. Cordova sunk both shots which gave Hoehne a 41-40 point lead with 2:24 remaining.
John Mall then took control as the Cats worked the ball to Berger under the boards for two. Berger was fouled but failed to capitalize on the three-point play. A Panther full-court press kept the Farmers in check until Zac Harriman stole the ball and fed it to Wiggins. Griego was under the boards for the follow-up point, and with 1:01, the Cats took a 44-41 lead.
In the final stretch, all the Farmers could do was foul. Griego sank four straight free throws in the final minute. For the quarter, Griego went seven for eight at the line. The Panthers overall went 10 of 14 in the fourth. Griego led the Panthers scoring with eleven and Wiggins had ten.
The following night, the Panthers faced a tough Crowley team, losing by eleven points. The Panthers were never in the game, having trailed by 8 at half. The Panthers made it close in the third, but were outscored in the fourth 21-15.
The Panther defense could not control Nathan Baylor who was the game’s leading scorer with 30 points. The Panthers’ offensive output was one of the strongest of the season, but their efforts fell short. Jacob Wiggins was hot from the three-point line with four, while Bechaver and Harriman each had one. The overall foul count was 21 against the Cats while the Chargers committed 18.
Crowley County leads the league with a 5-1 record. John Mall has a 2-2 league record. The Panthers will be at home tonight, Thursday, Jan. 19. They will play against Las Animas and will travel to Fowler on Saturday. Both the boys’ and girls’ junior varsity and varsity teams will see action.
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