SACRAMENTO — Guillermo Nunez missed an open layup after a steal and later missed the rim entirely on two 3-point attempts.
Those shots were just too easy.
Some of the ones Sierra’s usually-sharp shooting guard did convert were doozies, like the turnaround jumper from the right elbow with a hand in his face. That was his first field goal of the game, recorded with 3:29 to go in the third.
Then there was his valiant drive to the basket with the shot clock winding down late in the fourth quarter. He went right at Casa Roble’s 6-foot-10 Eric Stuteville and rattled it home, giving the No. 2 Timberwolves a seven-point lead with 1:40 left in the game.
The 44-39 win over the third-seeded Rams of Orangevale late Tuesday night at Cosumnes River College was hard-earned to say the least. It also sends the Timberwolves (26-4) to their second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division III final.
While Sierra struggled with the Sacramento State-bound Stuteville (19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks) and 6-9 Mason Stuteville (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists), Eric’s younger brother, Casa Roble had trouble figuring out the Timberwolves’ defense in the second half.
That, along with the tough shots — many from long range — was the difference.
“Their two big guys gave us some problems,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “Their length bothered us and really dictated things inside, Guillermo didn’t shoot the ball well and our offense was real stagnant. But the guys grinded it out. They found a way to get it done.
“They did it on defense and with rebounding. That’s our identity.”
Sierra did a good job defending the perimeter, as the Stuteville brothers accounted for the bulk of the Rams’ points. Jess Baucum didn’t score until he buried a trey with 5 seconds remaining. He fired 24 points in their 80-60 first-round drubbing of East Union.
Casa Roble (23-7) was held to just five points and had seven turnovers during the pivotal third quarter, when Nunez scored seven of his 13 points. Eric Melgar was instrumental in jump-starting the attack in the second quarter, drilling three of four 3s while finishing with 13 points.
Yet, it was the unsung scrappers mixing it up with the Stuteville giants helped Sierra get over the hump, from Justin Patton (six points, three steals, to D’Ari Allen (two points, five rebounds) and reserve Jonnythan Munkholm, who pulled down five boards and came up with three steals in the third quarter.
“They did a great job,” Casa Roble coach Bel Lange said. “They were more physical than us and played like they wanted it more. They were the better team.”
Sierra meets top-seeded Modesto Christian Friday night at Sleep Train Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 9.
“We’re not satisfied yet,” Thomason said. “We can’t wait for Friday.”