Free throws hoist East Mountain High to first-ever hoops win over Moriarty

East Mountain's Aaron Talamante, No. 24, attempting to block a shot by Moriarty's Tyler Ortiz during the second half of the Timberwolves' Jan. 17 victory.

In a thriller between the Class 4A Moriarty High Pintos and 3A East Mountain—where the lead changed more than a dozen times—the outcome was decided at the foul line.

Trailing Moriarty in overtime, East Mountain’s William Merkey sank a pair of free throws, Arian Rogers added the exclamation point with two more, and the Timberwolves held on for a 58-56 victory Jan. 17 at their homecourt.

The win was the East Mountain boys basketball team’s first-ever over the Pintos.

“I’m real proud of the effort tonight,” East Mountain head coach Joe Vigil  said. “When [Aaron] Talamante fouled out, everyone else stepped up and played tough.”

Talamante, who led the T’Wolves with 17 points, fouled out in the fourth quarter.

East Mountain’s Jose Perea hit a pair of free throws to tie the game 51-51 with 1:06 remaining in regulation. Perea tallied 15 points.

Reyes Chavez’ free throw with 32 seconds remaining gave Moriarty a 52-51 lead.

Merkey went to the foul line with 17.8 left and sank one of two free throw attempts to knot the score at 52 and send the game into overtime.

East Mountain’s Jose Perea flying between Moriarty’s Michael Pisz and Tyler Ortiz.

In OT, Perea hit a layup to put the T’Wolves ahead 54-53—their first lead since the third quarter—but Tyler Ortiz answered with a basket to push the Pintos back on top, 55-54.

Ortiz finished with 17 points.

With 1:11 left in overtime and the crowd screaming at ear-splitting levels, Merkey was fouled and went to the line.

“I was a little nervous,” Merkey said. “I was like, ‘I gotta make these.’”

He made both. Merkey went 6 for 8 from the foul line and finished with 8 points.

With 32 seconds left, Rogers knocked down two more free throws to boost the T’Wolves’ lead to 58-55. Rogers was 6 for 6 from the line and totaled 9 points.

Caleb Flaming made a free throw with :24 left in the game to pull the Pintos within 2 points. He finished with 16.

East Mountain was then called for a 10-second backcourt violation and Moriarty got the ball back with 10.4 left on the clock.

The Pintos inbounded the ball and took a shot, but it was blocked by East Mountain’s Ross Amestoy.

Moriarty took one last desperation shot at the buzzer, but it sailed wide.

“It is what it is,” Moriarty head coach Marcus Ortiz  said. “They made their free throws at the end and we missed ours, and free throws will win or lose you a ball game.”

East Mountain’s Jeff Hill tossing up a jumper.

The T’Wolves (8-7) used an early 12-2 run to forge ahead in the first quarter and led by as much as 12 points late in the second. They were up 31-23 at halftime.

The Pintos (2-13), buoyed by a pair of 3-pointers by Chavez, outscored East Mountain 17-5 in the third quarter to forge ahead 40-36. Chavez finished with 12 points.

After Flaming sank three consecutive fourth-quarter baskets—two layups and a jumper—the Pintos still led 46-42 with 5 minutes left in regulation.

Three of Moriarty’s starters fouled out before the end of the game and coach Ortiz had to rely on his bench.

“We were kind of forced to put our bench in an awkward situation,” coach Ortiz said. “It came down to some lack of experience at the end of a close game and we were a little discombobulated, but you live and learn from your mistakes.”