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Atkins sparks Sierra in comeback win
Alysia Atkins spearheads the fastbreak for Sierra in the second half of a pivotal Valley Oak League contest against visiting Sonora Tuesday. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
Welcome back Alysia Atkins.

After missing Sierra’s previous Valley Oak League girls basketball contest, Atkins returned to action Tuesday and led the Timberwolves’ 41-37 comeback victory over visiting Sonora High.

The loss avenges a previous 43-39 loss to Sonora and helps Sierra (4-5, 12-8 overall) improve its chances to make the postseason, but there are still big games coming up after wrapping up a pivotal stretch.

“That was probably the toughest four-game stretch for anybody in our league, and it was nice to finish it off with a win,” said Sierra coach Steve Unterholzner.

Atkins wasn’t at the big game with rival East Union last Thursday, and Unterholzner would not specify the reason for her absence. Sierra competed well without her but lost, 48-41.

On Tuesday, Atkins anchored two Sierra runs that kept Sonora (6-3, 11-9) in range, and her teammates came up huge in crunch time while she sidelined with foul trouble. She finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five steals.

“She came in with a hugely positive attitude and was ready to play,” Unterholzner said. “When she’s on and she’s playing well, the rest of the team follows her. And that’s what happened — everybody played well tonight.”

The Timberwolves twice climbed back from double-digit deficits.

Sonora scored nine unanswered points to start the second quarter and establish a 21-9 lead. Atkins countered with back-to-back drives for layups to jump start an 8-0 run that was later capped by Michelle Arroyo’s 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining.

Sierra was down 24-19 at halftime but fell further behind, 32-21, by the midway point of the third. That was Atkins’ cue to rattle off eight straight points in a 2 ½-minute span.

“She was tough,” Sonora coach Lloyd Longeway said of Atkins. “We tried to stay in front of her, but she was able to get to the basket all night. That really hurt us.”

Atkins’ final points were tallied 50 seconds into the fourth quarter, closing Sierra in, 34-33. She was whistled with her fourth foul shortly thereafter, and the rest of the Timberwolves came up huge — especially on defense.

Sonora was mired in a scoring slump for over a 6-minute stretch in the second half and was held to just three points in the final period.

“They did a good job of battling and were very stingy on defense,” Longeway said. “They always play us hard down here — we expected that from them.”

Stephanie Vanni hit the third of her three 3-pointers with 4:41 left to give Sierra the lead for good, 36-34. She sealed the game by knocking down one of two free throws with 16.6 seconds remaining and dashed any hope of a miracle comeback by forcing a turnover on the defensive end. Vanni had 10 points and three steals, Jordan Johnson added five points and 11 rebounds and reserve center Lia Unterholzner contributed six points and three blocks.

Kelli Keefe paced Sonora with 11 points, six assists and six steals.