It’s been awhile since Moriarty High School’s boys basketball team claimed a victory over the St. Pius X Sartans.

In fact, many of the exuberant players and fans thought the Pintos had made history last Friday when they toppled their visiting district rival, 56-48.

“I believe this is the first time in Moriarty basketball history that we’ve beaten St. Pius,” sophomore forward Matt Soto said. “I’m not sure if that’s true or not.”

It’s not.

But no one can fault Soto, or anyone else on the team for that matter. After all, Soto had just turned 4 years old when the Pintos last defeated the Sartans on Jan. 6, 2004.

For the Pintos (11-12, 2-2 District 5-5A), last Friday’s victory was their first of the season over a top-10 5A team, and an important district win Moriarty sorely needed.

“It’s huge, it was great to see all the excitement in our boys,” Moriarty head coach Mike Trujillo said. “They needed to feel a good victory like that. I think it means a bunch to our program, that’s a big step we just took.”

But it wasn’t easy.

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Moriarty’s Zach Trujillo under siege by a trio of Sartans during last Friday’s victory. Photo by G. Demarest.

The game was a scratch-and-claw, seesaw battle from the outset with 28 lead changes. And it all came down to the final minutes when the Pintos used a 10-0 run to seal the victory.

“That was nice,” Trujillo said of the final run. “I think our kids, those last few minutes, finished with confidence.”

The Sartans led 48-46 with 3:26 remaining in the game when Moriarty senior Cody Pisz went to the foul line and knocked down both ends of a one-and-one, a shooting foul that entitles a player to a second free throw if he makes the first.

“Honestly, I looked at Jake [Flaming] and winked, and he gave me a little smile, and I just felt at home right there,” Pisz said about keeping his cool at the foul line. “The crowd was going crazy, everyone was yelling, and once you step on that line you gotta stay calm and do exactly what Coach has told you day in and day out.”

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Moriarty’s Jake Flaming reaching for the rim over a Sartan during last Friday’s victory. Photo by G. Demarest.

“It’s just a little mind game we do to take the pressure off,” Flaming said of the team’s foul-line camaraderie, adding, “That whole fourth quarter was really a great team effort.”

Flaming’s layup off an assist from Zach Trujillo with 2:45 to go put the Pintos ahead for good.

Less than a minute later, Flaming took a pass from Pisz along the baseline in the paint, dribbled under the basket, and sank a back-handed layup with 1:50 left. “Cody gave it to me, and I was gonna go up for a dunk, but I just decided to lay it up instead,” Flaming said. He led the Pintos with a game-high 23 points, and added 15 rebounds for a double-double.

Pisz added another pair of free throws with 31.5 seconds left to cap the Pintos scoring. He finished with 13 points, including going 7-for-7 from the charity stripe.

The Pintos had six separate leads during the first half before St. Pius’ Ryan Rivera hit a 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter to put the Sartans ahead 22-19 at halftime.

Moriarty bounced back in the second half, going 4-for-4 from the floor during the first 2 minutes of the third quarter to take a 5-point lead.

The Pintos shot 60 percent in the second half and 54 percent overall.

Splitting district games with the Sartans—St. Pius won 56-53 on Feb. 2—puts the Pintos in good shape for the district tournament that starts next week and improves their chances of making state for the first time in four years.

Moriarty played at district-leader Grants Tuesday after The Independent went to print. The Pintos host Albuquerque Academy on Friday.

Ger Demarest
Ger Demarest

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.