Sierra has a way of making ugly wins look good.
It has been a trademark of the Scott Thomason-led program over the years, one that helped it gain another Valley Oak League crown Wednesday at Manteca High’s Winter Gym. With 6-foot-8 standout Joshua Patton in foul trouble for most of the contest, the Timberwolves still managed to produce a defensive masterpiece and never trailed in their 48-37 title-clinching victory.
“We grinded one possession at a time,” Thomason said. “That’s our identity. We defend, we rebound and if we should the ball well we feel like we’re going to extend games.
“We don’t mind ugly games. We kind of cherish those. We feel like other teams are going to be uncomfortable doing that and we’re not.”
Sierra (12-0 VOL, 23-2) collected its fourth straight VOL championship but is holding off on celebrating. The Timberwolves have two chances, starting with Friday’s contest at rival Weston Ranch, to keep the spoils all to themselves. There is also the postseason to keep in mind. Sierra claimed the outright title with four games to go last year but lost three of its last four, including a 60-43 stunner against lower-seeded Central Valley in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
“It feels good but we’re not done yet,” Sierra forward Hunter Johnson said.
Johnson anchored Sierra’s latest triumph, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Devin Nunez was held scoreless in the second half after registering 12 points on four 3s over the first two periods. Jess Spivey contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Daniel Wyatt (seven points, five rebounds) also had big moments to help make up for Patton’s sparse playing time.
Patton scored the game’s first four points but settled for six points, five rebounds and four blocks. He sat the final 6 minutes of the second quarter with two fouls and picked up his fifth with 3:48 left in the game.
Yes, Sierra can win the ugly ones. It can even do so without its most impactful player.
“It’s one big team effort,” Johnson said. “There’s no telling what we could do with or without someone, but we’re all playing as one unit.”
Sierra rallied for 12 straight points to lead 19-6 at the end of the first quarter, a run highlighted by Johnson’s four-point play. Manteca (10-2, 18-6), the VOL runner-up for a second straight season, answered with a 17-8 second quarter and made it tougher for the Timberwolves to score points.
Anand Hundal — who had 13 points, five rebounds and five blocks — was a big reason for that. The 6-8 junior was non-existent in the first Manteca-Sierra showdown when he was limited to two points. On Wednesday he scored eight of his points in a variety of ways in the second quarter to close the Buffaloes in 27-23 by halftime.
“Anand was not happy with the way the last game ended, so he dedicated himself for this game big time,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t pull it off.”
It wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Undersized power forward Tyler Graves-Kelso (eight points, five rebounds, three steals) did all he could to keep the Buffaloes within striking distance. They trailed 40-27 after scoring just four points in the third quarter. Manteca began the fourth on a 7-2 run capped by Graves-Kelso’s put-back layup off his own initial miss with 4:34 left. The Buffaloes didn’t make another bucket until reserve guard Ja’Juan Freeman laid one in with 51.8 seconds to go.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Lewis said. “Give them credit, they were pressuring our guards well and played great defense against us, but our jumpers weren’t falling.”
Neither were Sierra’s, for some stretches. And that’s alright with Thomason.
“They’re long and they challenge a lot of shots at the basket,” Thomason said of the Buffaloes. “We obviously know each other very well and Manteca is a very good team. You don’t get to this point playing for a championship without having a good team.”
Manteca now hopes to get another crack at its in-town foe down the road. The Buffaloes head to East Union on Friday before wrapping up regular-season play at Oakdale next Tuesday.
“Our motivation is to win a couple of playoff games and hopefully see these guys again,” Lewis said. “I like our chances if we see them a third time.”
Manteca 48, Sierra 43
Ascari Johnson hit two key field goals late in the contest to propel the Buffaloes to a hard-earned victory.
He first drained 3-pointer from the corner to give Manteca the lead for good with 1:15 remaining, and 35 seconds later he expanded the advantage with a layup. Johnson finished with 10 points, Justin Kakala led the way with 11 and Inder Randhawa pitched in eight.
Jamille Grady (11 points), Victor Elijah (10) and Noah Ault (10) were all in double figures for Sierra.
Manteca 66, Sierra 47
The Buffaloes (10-1, 18-3) took command with an 18-5 flurry to start the game and cruised from there.
Antwann Taylor led with 19 points. Manteca also got 11 each from Kyle Reis and Kyle Bolding.