Before and after each of the three games Moriarty High School’s boys’ and girls’ basketball teams played on Jan. 17 and 18, the players and fans huddled at center court, reached their arms upward, and cheered, “Sandoval Strong on three…one, two, three, SANDOVAL STRONG!”
The games—the boys played two and the girls played one—were the Pintos’ first since the passing of their friends and teammates, Pete and Mateo Sandoval, who died in a car accident Jan. 14.
With a spectacular showing of community support for all three games, Moriarty’s main gym was packed to the gills and brimming with cheers, tears, and homage to the Sandoval family as the Pintos prevailed over top-ranked Albuquerque Academy on Jan. 17, before both the boys’ and girls’ squads lost to Portales the next day.
Enlarged photos of the late Sandoval brothers hung on the gym’s walls alongside several hand-painted banners with themes like “60+40=100%,” a tribute to both the boys’ jersey numbers and their work ethic; and “Get Better Today,” and “#Sandoval Strong.”
Moriarty’s players and many fans wore T-shirts that had similar themes printed on them like “#Pintos Strong,” and “#Sandoval Brothers.”
Pete and Mateo’s parents, Ernie and Lexi Sandoval, were in attendance for all three games and were honored before and after each game by players, coaches, and even some of the officials who greeted them with hugs, handshakes, flowers and a commemorative basketball signed by the team.
Each game was preceded by a moment of silence.
In the Jan. 17 game, Moriarty and Academy traded leads before the Pintos built a 19-10 advantage in the second quarter.
But Academy forged ahead 25-22 at halftime.
Academy increased its lead to 39-33 by the end of the third quarter and still led by 6 points in the fourth when the Pintos caught fire.
Michael Pisz hit a 3-pointer with three minutes remaining in the game to pull Moriarty within a point, and then nailed another with 1:32 left to give the Pintos a 47-45 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“I called a timeout in the fourth quarter,” Moriarty head coach Marcus Ortiz said, “And I told the guys, ‘Now is the chance to go all out and win it for Pete.’”
With the crowd chanting “Sandoval Strong!” and 2.2 seconds left on the clock, Academy fouled Pisz, sending him to the foul line for a one-and-one free throw that would’ve made it a two-possession game, but he missed the first attempt.
An Academy player grabbed the rebound and started to dribble but he stumbled, the buzzer sounded, and the Pintos pulled out the 47-45 victory as the players and fans stormed the court.
“It was super emotional,” Pisz said after the game, adding, “In Socorro, I think it was Pete’s first time on the foul line cuz he had an injury, and he’s all, ‘Bro, I’m gonna make my first points,’ and he clanked all three of them, and that’s all I could think about.”
Julian Encinias led the Pintos’ scoring with 13 points; Pisz scored 12, and Tyler Ortiz added 8.
The next day, during the girls’ game against Portales, Kailei Edwards started with a 3-pointer, and her sister, Payton Edwards, followed with a layup to give the Lady Pintos an early 5-0 lead.
But Portales answered with a 10-0 run and never looked back.
Payton Edwards hit a pair of jump shots in the second quarter to trim Portales’ lead to 22-19.
Portales used a 12-0 run to build a 39-21 lead at halftime and went on to win 58-43.
Payton Edwards scored a game-high 14 points. Kailei Edwards added 11. Jessica Kaberlein chipped in 6.
After the game, the Lady Pintos and head coach Erin Edwards were noticeably emotional.
“For me, I was just focusing on trying my best,” Payton Edwards said. “To just strive to be like Pete and Mateo, how they always strived to be the best, and that’s how I wanted to play tonight.”
“They definitely played with heart,” coach Edwards said. “But they knew it was gonna be tough, and they came out and they played the best they could in this situation.”
In the boys’ game, Moriarty’s Cayden Dunn sank a layup in the first 10 seconds and added a 3-pointer five minutes later to give the Pintos a 14-12 lead during the back-and-forth first quarter.
Tyler Ortiz’ layup just before the end of the first gave the Pintos a 16-15 edge.
“I was just trying to keep that energy up from the night before,” Dunn said. “You could feel the crowd shaking, you could feel it all around you.”
Reyes Chavez’ layup midway through the second quarter pushed the Pintos ahead 20-18—their final lead of the game.
Portales built a 27-23 lead at halftime.
Pisz nailed a 3 midway through the third quarter to trim Portales’ lead to 29-27, but that was Moriarty’s only field goal of the quarter.
Portales extended its lead to 41-29 by the end of the third and went on to win 57-44.
“I think, after last night, with all the emotions, we just got a little gassed,” Dunn said.
Tyler Ortiz led the Pintos with 12 points; Dunn scored 11; Reyes Chavez chipped in 10.
“It came down to fatigue, not only physically but mentally as well,” coach Ortiz said. “These guys fought hard, they played their butts off two nights in a row, and we didn’t get the storybook outcome like we did last night, but they gave it everything they had, and hey, you win some, you lose some.”
After the game, players and coaches from both teams and many of the fans huddled together one last time at center court. A Portales coach led a prayer, and the group finished with one final “Sandoval Strong” cheer.
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.