East Mountain High School’s boys basketball team is ten games into its season but the Timberwolves—and first-year head coach Nathan Cordova—are still searching for their first victory.

The T’Wolves, who made the Class 3A state playoffs last year for the first time in school history, play hard every game, even when the final score doesn’t reflect it.

In the third quarter of East Mountain’s Jan. 7 home loss to the Santa Rosa Lions, the T’Wolves outscored the visitors 23-12. During that third-quarter surge, Will Merkey and Dominik Chavez both hit a pair of 3-point shots and Jake McFall added another.

The T’Wolves’ defense also helped quell the Lions—who had exploded for 56 points in the first half.

But East Mountain’s strong third quarter only trimmed a sliver of Santa Rosa’s lead and the T’Wolves fell 80-37.

The contest started with East Mountain taking a quick 2-0 lead on McFall’s layup in the game’s first :10.

Santa Rosa responded with five consecutive 3s to fuel a 23-0 run on the way to a commanding 26-4 lead by the end of the frame. The Lions added 30 more points in the second quarter.

“They shot the lights out,” McFall said about the Lions.

McFall led the T’Wolves with 10 points. Merkey and Chavez chipped in 8 points apiece, and Tim Fuchs added 6.

“It was definitely a tale of two halves,” Cordova said. “I mean, in the first half we couldn’t buy a basket and [the Lions] made everything, we couldn’t stop them from shooting. In the second half we came out, we shot better and our man-defense helped a little bit—it was a team effort in the second half.”

The T’Wolves came close to capturing their first victory of the season on Jan. 3 when they hosted the Tucumcari Rattlers and led for three-plus quarters.

McFall’s early layup, combined with a jump shot a few minutes later, bookended an 11-1 first-quarter run.

But Tucumcari tied the score by the end of the stanza.

A Merkey 3-pointer and three consecutive baskets by Fuchs helped the T’Wolves manufacture a 24-20 lead at halftime.

East Mountain’s Jake McFall fighting for a rebound with a Santa Rosa defender Jan. 7. Photo by Ger Demarest.

“In the beginning we were just running our offense and coming together as a team, our energy was really good,” McFall said.

The T’Wolves led 33-29 after the third quarter and still held a 35-33 lead after Merkey’s layup early in the fourth.

But Tucumcari outscored East Mountain 23-15 the rest of the way to beat the T’Wolves 56-50.

McFall made things interesting with consecutive 3s in the game’s final :30 but it wasn’t enough.

McFall led the T’Wolves with 16 points; Fuchs had a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds.

“I really thought we were there,” Cordova said after the Tucumcari contest. “We played hard, we just got tentative in the fourth quarter and that’s what hurt us.”

East Mountain plays three games at Socorro High’s annual “M” Mountain Invitational tournament, Jan. 9-11, and Cordova said he hopes the T’Wolves can play like they did in the first half against Tucumcari and the second half against Santa Rosa.

“We’ve just gotta play a little bit better as a team for 32 minutes,” Cordova said. “The effort is there, and that’s what we’ve gotta build off of, the positive, that’s all you can ask from these kids. They don’t give up, they don’t hang their heads. It’s a great group of kids.”