PENDLETON - During Friday night's pregame introductions, Pendleton's public address announcer struggled with the pronunciation of Hermiston junior Ramiro Alatorre (al-A'-tor-ay)'s last name. Four quarters and 25 points later, the Bulldogs' starting point guard had a much easier title for fans to remember him by.
"He's Mr. Clutch," teammate Sam Grogan said about Alatorre, who scored 13 of his game-high point total in the fourth quarter of Hermiston's 62-57 victory over rival Pendleton. "I like playing with Ramiro because you know everything is going in. He takes good shots and has a good shot selection."
A two-year starter, Alatorre almost single-handedly lifted the Intermountain Conference-leading Bulldogs over the Bucks, hitting all six of his free throws in the final eight minutes of the game, rallying Hermiston after the Bucks led 30-26 at the half.
"He's an athlete," said Pendleton's Trevor Patterson. "He could drive the ball and he was quick. We didn't really have anyone who could stay with him. He's long, tall and what you want your point guard to be."
The 6-foot-1 guard struggled to find his offensive rhythm early, picking up his fourth foul three minutes into the third quarter. Alatorre sat the final five minutes of the quarter before re-entering the game to start the fourth and final period.
"I was trying to be real aggresive on the defensive end," Alatorre said. "I didn't work. I picked up a lot of fouls."
With the game tied at 39-39, Alatorre went to work. In addition to his flawless free throw shooting, the lanky Bulldog hit 3 of 4 field goals, including a 3-pointer to jump start Hermiston's offense.
"He came in the fourth quarter and handled the ball well," said Pendleton's Shae Schimmel, who guarded Alatorre for stretches of the game. "He took over with a couple lay-ins and at the free throw line."
After a lackluster first half, Bulldog coach Larry Usher urged his players to rise to the occasion and Alatorre responded.
"We went into the locker room at halftime and we really challenge the kids," said Usher, whose team swept the Bucks last season. "Ramiro came out the second half and played a heck of a lot more aggressive. That changed the ball game."
Coming into his own after starting and struggling at times last year as a sophomore, Alatorre is now counted on to lead a Hermiston squad that starts two first-year varsity players, sophomores Grogan and J.J. Ross.
"Now that he's a junior, that's old hat for him," Usher said about Alatorre's big-game performance. "That's his job as a point guard to hit big shots and knock down foul shots."
Added Bulldog senior Ricardo Amezcua, Alatorre's backcourt mate for the past two seasons, "He's matured a lot. ... He stepped up big. If this was last year he wouldn't have done it."
Showing the poise of a grizzled NBA veteran and not a 17-year-old school boy, Alatorre nailed his six game-changing free throws in front of a loud and frenzied Pendleton student body section.
"I just acted like it was everyday at practice," said Alatorre, who was just 2 of 4 from the line before the final quarter. "We send a lot of time everyday at practice working on free throws."
With Alatorre leading the 11-7 Bulldogs, Hermiston's future appears bright. The Bulldogs have six IMC games remaining, three at home.
"He's young, but he was their leader," Patterson said. "He really took over."
Hermiston travels to Redmond on Friday night and Bend on Saturday afternoon for more IMC games.