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Sierra hosts rival Manteca tonight in 1st-place battle
BK--Prep Notebook file 1 LT
Sierras Hunter Johnson (23) battles for the rebound with Modesto Christian and UOP signee Anthony Townes (33) and Christian Ellis (1) in the first half during the finale of the day-long MLK Showcase at Modesto Christian. The Timberwolves lost, 43-28, but looks to bounce back tonight in Valley Oak League action against Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO

No one will ever accuse a Scott Thomason-led team of looking past anybody.

Sierra’s boys basketball head coach has often referred to each contest as a “one-game championship,” but he broke character — well, sort of — last Thursday after this squad blew out Kimball in a Valley Oak League contest. 

At the time, Sierra was shifting its focus to formidable Modesto Christian, which hosted the boys in blue for the main event of the MLK Showcase on Saturday. When asked if he was thinking about the looming cross-town rivalry clash with Manteca …

“A little,” Thomason admitted. “Manteca is in the back of our minds, but right now our attention is on Saturday.”

Tonight, the Timberwolves (15-2) host Manteca (12-4) in a first-place battle between the VOL’s only 4-0 teams. The Buffaloes are riding a five-game win streak, extended last Thursday with their wild 57-55 comeback win over Central Catholic in overtime. Manteca was down by 11 early in the fourth, but Marcus Montano — who scored all 14 of his points in the fourth and overtime periods, including the winning layup in the final seconds — led the comeback charge.

Sierra had an 11-game winning streak snapped by Saturday’s 43-28 loss to Modesto Christian. The Timberwolves have nothing to be ashamed of losing to the No. 6 team in the MaxPreps California Division II rankings, and they have traditionally bounced back well from defeats.

All eyes will surely be on the 6-foot-8 shot-blocking sensations in the middle tonight, as Sierra’s Sacramento State-bound Joshua Patton tangles with Manteca junior Anand Hundal. But there are other intriguing matchups to look for, such as the duel between rising big guards Tydus Verhoeven, an impressive 6-7 sophomore for Manteca, and the underrated-but-productive Jess Spivey. 

Or how about Sierra’s dangerous guard tandem of Devin Nunez and Daniel Wyatt against Manteca’s improving backcourt duo of Angel Perez and Montano? And how do the Buffaloes match up with Hunter Johnson, Sierra’s 6-4 forward and top scorer?

It will all shake out tonight and by the end only one will stand alone atop the VOL standings.

“It’ll be a fun game, for sure,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said following his team’s win over Central Catholic. “It’s still early and neither of us have a loss (in league). It could be seen as a big game but it’s still early in the year. I don’t want to downplay it too much but I don’t want to put it too high on the pedestal just yet.”


Big week for EU

In what is shaping up to be a Kimball-and-everybody-else race for the VOL girls, East Union enters a pivotal stretch in its schedule ahead as it tries to keep pace for one of three Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths.

The Lancers (3-1, 11-4) first travel to Weston Ranch (4-0, 13-3) on Wednesday. The Cougars won their previous meeting with East Union on the court last February but forfeited for using an illegal player. Weston Ranch was ultimately kept from seizing its first VOL title, while East Union qualified for the postseason.

Then on Friday, 6-2 forward Loretta Kakala returns to Dalben Center as a Buffalo. Kakala starred as a freshman for East Union last season and earned All-VOL first-team honors. She transferred across town to Manteca (2-2, 10-7) at the start of the school year. It’s also an important week for Manteca, which takes Sierra on Wednesday.

East Union caps the week with the 5th Annual Hoops for the Cure Classic against nonleague rival Ripon. The varsity game is set for a 7:15 tipoff Saturday night. 


Alexander great

Has anyone from the Manteca area been better than Weston Ranch’s Elisabeth Alexander so far? She’s certainly making her case for the Bulletin’s year-end All-Area MVP award.

The 5-10 guard heading to CSU Stanislaus was averaged 21 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks in 10 nonleague contests and hasn’t slowed down since. 

Alexander is averaging 22.3 points in league for the Cougars (4-0 VOL, 13-3 overall) and scored another 22 in Saturday’s nonleague loss to Excel Academy in Modesto Christian’s MLK Showcase.


McDonald’s nominee

Weston Ranch senior Brijanee Moore is one of more than 800 seniors nationwide nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Game. Only two others from this half of the SJS are also listed: Lance Coleman of St. Mary’s and Anthony Townes of Modesto Christian.

The final rosters will be announced Jan. 28 on ESPNU. The games are set for April 1 at United Center in Chicago.

Moore, a transfer from St. Mary’s, played just two games for Weston Ranch before she was declared academically ineligible. She will miss the remainder of the season.