From the start of the season, the rhetoric surrounding the Sierra and Weston Ranch boys basketball teams was consistent.
The Valley Oak League heavyweights would be judged in the postseason, not by the number of victories they collect along the way.
The time to be weighed and measured has arrived.
No. 3 Sierra will face ninth-seeded Weston Ranch tonight in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
For the first time in area history, two Manteca Unified School District programs will square off in a basketball section final.
Tip-off is slated for 9 p.m.
When the final buzzer sounds, the MUSD will celebrate its first section champion in 28 years.
But who will it be?
Manteca High was the last MUSD school to hoist a blue banner — the keepsake afforded to a section champion — after winning the Division II tournament in 1987.
Over the years, the Timberwolves have come closest to snapping that drought. Sierra has reached four section finals, including three in the last four years.
In 2012, the Timberwolves had their 26-game winning streak stopped in the final by Foothill. One year later, Modesto Christian spoiled Sierra’s special season.
The Timberwolves return with another head of steam after setting a school record with their 28th victory on Tuesday, a 76-72 overtime win against No 2 Vanden.
“You don’t get these games back. You don’t get these moments back. We have an opportunity to do something special, so you want to seize it,” said Sierra coach Scott Thomason, who has amassed a 297-128 record in 15 seasons.
“We definitely want to get a section title. We’re all about championships here, whether it’s league, section or competing for state.”
Weston Ranch (21-10) reached the Division III final in 2007, but James Nunnally and the upstart Cougars were denied by Sacramento’s fast finish. The Dragons outscored Weston Ranch 20-11 in the fourth quarter, erasing a 47-42 deficit.
The heartbreak continued in Chris Teevans’ first season in 2013.
Teevan led a talent-rich team back to the semifinals, but the former Modesto Junior College and Stanislaus State point guard blames himself for that evening’s struggles against eventual D-III champion Modesto Christian.
The loss negated an all-MUSD final with Sierra — the same matchup on tonight’s docket.
“I think about that game all the time. That was the worst job I’ve ever done. We should have zoned,” Teevan said following Tuesday’s 61-41 victory over Manteca. “I just remember going in the night before that game thinking my players were better than Modesto Christian’s and my pride got in the way.”
Teevan stripped the emotion out of Tuesday’s semifinal with Manteca, a team that swept Weston Ranch during the regular season.
He’s kept the atmosphere loose in the locker room and his players have responded, winning all three postseason games on the road ... by double figures.
“This is not an emotional game. It’s an execution game,” said Teevan, whose program is 1-5 against Sierra in his three seasons. “Rebounding, ball control, shot selection and shot making – those have to be first and foremost before the emotional stuff people want to throw onto it.”
Sierra enters the game the higher seed, but its path to tonight’s final hasn’t been lined with cupcakes.
The Timberwolves thwarted the very best the Solano County Athletic Conference had to offer, surviving battles with No. 14 Fairfield, No. 11 Vallejo and No. 2 Vanden.
On Tuesday, the Timberwolves managed victory despite blowing a 20-point lead in the third quarter and then losing reigning VOL MVP Joshua Patton early in the fourth.
In fact, Sierra went the final nine minutes without two starters. The Timberwolves got key contributions from their unheralded bench, including a bucket by Ogun Delaney and
“It shows the resiliency of our team. That’s why you have a whole team. Guys stepped up,” Thomason said. “We told the guys that don’t play much, ‘You have to prepare to play.’
“We believe in each other no matter the circumstances. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous. They had momentum and the odds were stacked against us, but we have gamers and a competitive spirit.”
Thomason expects to see a rejuvenated Patton tonight. The Sacramento State-bound center has been slowed in the postseason by the flu and foul trouble. He’s fouled out of all three games.
“I know he’ll go and be a man on Friday night,” Thomason said. “People have such high expectations for him. He’s been carrying this program for two years and I know he’ll rise to the occasion on Friday night.”