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Sierra blitzes Ceres with second-quarter shutout
SHS CHS1-2-21-13
Sierras Bryson Sanders beats Ceres Ryan Corral loose ball and races downcourt on a fastbreak. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Guillermo Nunez and Eric Melgar traded long-range baskets to start Wednesday’s playoff opener, igniting the home crowd with their own 3-point shootout.

Nunez feathered a trey from the corner and then followed it up with a straightaway shot.

Melgar answered with three of his own, including the money ball – a deep heave from the wing that stretched the lead to 19-2.

But in this backyard battle of “Can you top this?” among Sierra High teammates, it was the Timberwolves’ defense that stole the crown in a 66-25 victory over Ceres in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

The second-seeded Timberwolves (24-4) applied a suffocating, skin-tight man-to-man defense that produced Wednesday’s most telling statistics.

Let’s run the numbers:

Zero: As in the total number of points scored by No. 15 Ceres (14-13) in the second quarter. In fact, the Bulldogs went nearly 10 minutes without a bucket and didn’t attempt a single free throw until midway through the fourth quarter.

“I didn’t even know,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said of the goose egg. “I just knew we were playing great defense. We try to play it one possession at a time.”

But, coach…

“That was unbelievable defensive effort. To be up 42-4, we did not expect that. We were excited to play this game. The kids were foaming at the mouth to get on the court. We had a week off and I think they were tired of hearing about Ceres; tired of watching film on Ceres.”

Four: As in Ceres’ first-half point total. Abel Reyes had a pull-up jumper and Harmon Chung scored off a rebound in the first quarter and that was it.

Meanwhile, Sierra had no problem getting its shot—from anywhere on the floor. The Timberwolves knocked down 17 field goals on 12 assists.

After 12 comes…

Thirteen: As in Ceres’ turnover total through two quarters. Sierra would ultimately force 20 in a game quickened by a running clock in the fourth quarter.

At times, Ceres players handled the ball as if it were a coated in lava. Possessions were quick and chaotic, as the ball was fumbled, flipped and tossed in every direction but the rim.

Just minutes into the game, Sierra could smell blood.

“Oh, yeah,” Nunez said. “We just wanted to keep the pressure on until halftime and keep working hard.”

Nunez started hot and never cooled, finishing with a game-high 24 points on six 3-pointers.

He opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer from the wing and then closed it with a pair of transition layups, pushing the score to 42-4.

Melgar had 11 points, D’Ari Allen had eight and Emmanuel Elijah finished with six points and six assists for the Timberwolves in a near-perfect start to the Division III postseason.

About the only blemish in the Sierra box score: Free-throw shooting. The Timberwolves missed their first four free throws and finished 2 of 6.

No matter.

Sierra countered with its marksmanship from afar, covering five of its first six 3-pointers. The Timberwolves led 25-4 after the first period.

“When Guillermo starts on fire like that and Eric starts hitting his shots, it’s like a dagger for the opposing team,” Thomason said.

The Timberwolves will host No. 7 Placer, which escaped with a 62-59 victory over No. 10 Inderkum on Wednesday.

“We wanted to get off to a fast start. No sluggish moments,” Thomason said. “We wanted to make a statement to the teams in our bracket that we are here to compete.

“I can tell you this – it won’t be like this on Friday night.”