After getting past the visiting Laguna-Acoma Hawks in the Feb. 25 opener of the District 5-3A tournament, East Mountain High School’s boys basketball team was dispatched on the road Feb. 27 by the Sandia Prep Sundevils, 48-37.

“We played well for the most part,” East Mountain’s head coach Joe Vigil said about the tournament-elimination loss at Sandia Prep. “We hit a lapse in the second half where we turned the ball over, took a couple of bad shots, and didn’t get back on transition defense and that allowed [the Sundevils] to build a double-digit lead. That was the difference.”

Will Merkey, Aaron Talamante, and Arian Rogers each scored 8 points.

In the Feb. 25 opening round at home, the Timberwolves were buoyed by sharp second-half shooting and a stout defense to come out on top of a 55-48 thriller over Laguna-Acoma.

During a back-and-forth first half that had seven lead changes, Talamante’s layup late in the second quarter gave East Mountain a 23-21 advantage.

But the Hawks pecked ahead 25-23 by halftime.

Merkey came out on fire in the third quarter with four consecutive jump shots that helped fuel a 10-2 run.

“They kept leaving me open, and I started feeling it and I knew the team needed it,” Merkey said. He finished with 12 points—10 in the second half.

East Mountain’s Will Merkey powering his way to the basket against Laguna-Acoma. Photo by G. Demarest.

After exchanging leads four times in the fourth quarter, Talamante—who was in foul trouble and sat for most of the third quarter—sank a jumper in the paint to push the T’Wolves ahead 49-48 with 1:26 remaining in the game.

“I didn’t wanna get another foul called on me, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna pull back and shoot the ball,’ and it went in and that was it,” Talamante said, adding, “It felt so good because I knew we had it.” Talamante scored a game-high 16 points and he grabbed eight rebounds.

Parker Sweat paced the T’Wolves on the boards with nine rebounds.

Down the stretch, East Mountain used a stifling man-to-man press to keep Laguna from scoring.

“I thought we played great man-to-man,” Vigil said. “We made it difficult for [the Hawks] to score and that really secured the win for us.”

With :33 left and the T’Wolves clinging to a 1-point lead, Jose Perea went to the line and sank a pair of free throws.

“I was just thinking, ‘I gotta try to stay calm and knock these down,’” Perea said.

He hit another free throw with 19 seconds left, then slammed the door when he stole the ball and sank a fast break layup with 7 seconds left.

“This was exciting,” Vigil said. “My hat goes off to Laguna, they fought hard.”

The T’Wolves are likely to make their first trip to the state tournament and await the the NMAA’s March 3 release of the bracket seeding.