SACRAMENTO — What a difference a decade and a half makes.
The first time that Scott Thomason walked into the home of the Sacramento Kings to coach the Sierra High boys basketball team in his first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section final – the final game of his first season at the helm of what was still a young program – he had, for all intents and purposes, the game in the bag.
A nine-point lead at the half. A two-point lead with just seconds on the clock.
And then Aaron Gentry happened.
I was sitting in the Sierra student section when the lanky Riverbank center threw up an off-balance 3-point shot as time expired and watched in horror as the net danced beneath a red-framed backboard.
It’s the kind of thing that you can’t expect or prepare for. The kind of thing that would haunt a coach for years.
But all of those demons were exorcised on Friday night.
The Timberwolves crushed Manteca Unified rival Weston Ranch at Sleep Train Arena 67-51 to bring home the blue section banner for the first time in school history, and did so despite some spooky parallels.
Much like Sierra’s first trip to the finals, they were the No. 3 seed facing the No. 9 seed. They were facing a team that they had already beaten twice. They walked into the locker room at the half with a nine-point lead.
Things turned out much different this time around.
Armed with the powerful Joshua Patton (24 points, nine blocks) under the basket, Sierra was able to control the tempo with a big-first approach that the Cougars simply couldn’t keep up with.
Feed the ball to Patton, let him take a second to see which lane he’s going to take, and watch him find his way to the basket — either laying the ball in off of the glass or picking up a foul and heading to the line.
It worked masterfully.
When you add Daniel Wyatt’s 18-point night and his seven defensive rebounds it was easy to see how the Sierra High bus quickly picked up speed and why Weston Ranch got more and more frustrated as the game drew on.
It was the defining moment for a program that has had a lot of defining moments – four trips to the section finals since Thomason took over the program.
And they’ll take their 29-2 record back to Sierra High next week when they host a NorCal regional game and try to extend their history making by winning the program’s first post-section contest.
“I don’t know if this was validation – I’ll let other people worry about that,” Thomason said. “We’ve worked extremely hard; put a lot of time in and a lot of passion in. I’ve coached the same way for 15 years and obviously it’s not just one person. It’s not just me. You have to have great players and you have to have a coaching staff that’s on the same page – continuity with the coaching staff. We’re here because of the coaching staff and these guys and we’re going to enjoy this one and get back to grinding this week.”
Grind away, coach.