SACRAMENTO — With 23 seconds left and victory safely in hand, Scott Thomason reared back and howled toward the rafters at Sleep Train Arena.
After 15 years of service, dutifully building the Sierra High boys basketball program into a perennial Sac-Joaquin Section contender, Thomason finally had his missing jewel.
The third-seeded Timberwolves turned the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship into a clinic, trailing only once in a 67-51 victory over No. 9 Weston Ranch.
The biggest game in Manteca Unified School District history was a relative snoozer thanks to Thomason’s public-school machine. Four players scored in double figures for the four-time defending Valley Oak League champions and the lead grew as large as 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Joshua Patton finally found his stride in this postseason, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Sierra High boys basketball team.
The 6-foot, 8-inch center had 24 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocked shots in a return to old form. Patton had missed large chunks of the Timberwolves’ first three postseason games with foul trouble and the flu, but left nothing to chance on the section’s brightest stage.
He flipped hooks over Weston Ranch’s undersized post, rose high to repel and change shots, and knocked down his free-throw attempts.
“We have a big man? He’s been quiet the last three games,” Thomason said, eliciting laughter from the interview room. “I knew he would come out and be a man tonight and establish himself. He is feeling a lot better than he has been. He did a great job of mixing it up, blocking shots. They had hard time scoring around the basket because of him.”
While Patton acted as the anchor, Sierra put its full arsenal on display. Even when Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan waved the white flag, pulling his starters with a minute left, Sierra milked the final seconds with the horses that brought them there.
Junior guard Daniel Wyatt continued his breakout postseason, knifing through the lane for acrobatic layups. He finished with18 points and four assists.
Hunter Johnson had 11 points and 14 rebounds and Jess Spivey netted 11 for Sierra, which should host a first-round game when the NorCal regional tournament begins next week.
“I don’t know if we could have played much better,” Thomason said. “… Now the biggest challenge is can we wait to celebrate until our season is over? Now we got to get ready for a state playoff game. The biggest challenge is not to be satisfied right now.
“I can’t be more proud of our guys — 29-2, section champions, undefeated in league. You can’t get much better than that.”
The section title was the only missing jewel in Thomason’s gold crown. The 15th-year coach has turned Manteca’s youngest public school into a medium-school heavyweight … with one caveat: No section titles.
All of that changed on Friday as Sierra showed its opponent no mercy in ascending the throne in the house of Kings.
Weighted down in Valley Oak League championships, Sierra had reached this arena three times before only to be turned away by Riverbank (2001), Foothill (2012) and Modesto Christian (2013).
It took a giant to finally snatch that section banner. Patton scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the first half to set the victory in motion. The Sacramento State-bound senior was a sophomore call-up on Sierra’s 2013 runner-up.
“I promised Coach T and Coach (Leo) Griggs two years back that we would get back here and we’d win,” Patton said. “So, just getting here and winning this is unreal.”
Little went right for Weston Ranch, which overcame tremendous odds to reach the program’s second section final. The Cougars beat three higher seeds, including tournament No. 1 Christian Brothers, but had little left in the tank for their Valley Oak League nemesis.
Thomason has now beaten Teevan in five of their last six meetings, including a sweep of all three meetings this season.
Fred Lavender and Jaelen Ragsdale paced the Cougars with 17 points apiece. Josh Dilg had 12, including a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 3-0 early.
That would be Weston Ranch’s only significant highlight.
The championship was the first for a Manteca Unified School District team in 28 years. Manteca was the last to hoist a section banner, defeating then-VOL rival Livingston in the Division II final in 1987.
The drought was guaranteed to come to an end on Friday evening as Sierra and Weston Ranch successfully navigated the D-III tournament. The only questioned remain: Who would bring their championship game?
The answer: Sierra, over and over again, burying the dagger deeper and deeper with runs of 7-1 and 14-6 in the second and third quarters, respectively.
The Timberwolves trailed just once, led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, and dictated the terms of the game with their height and leak-out ability.
Patton dominated the low post from the outset. He had nine points, three rebounds and an assist in the first quarter as the Timberwolves surged to a 17-13 lead.
Weston Ranch (21-11) closed the gap to 25-22 on Dilg’s second 3-pointer of the half, but Sierra finished fast, ripping off a 7-1 run to take a 32-23 lead.
Hunter Johnson buried a 3 from the wing to make it 28-22, and moments later Patton spun around Charles Udeze for a layup off the glass. Jess Spivey’s fastbreak layup in the final 20 seconds sent the Timberwolves surging into the locker room.
Weston Ranch didn’t help itself. The Cougars were 1 for 8 from beyond the 3-point line in the second quarter and committed five turnovers.
After scoring eight points in the first eight minutes, Lavender was held scoreless in the second quarter. His teammates weren’t much better. Weston Ranch went the final 4 minutes, 12 seconds without a field goal as Patton’s length altered the game.
“He’s going D-I for a reason,” Teevan said. “I don’t remember who it was, but I heard a college coach saying he’s the best defensive center in the state of California.
“I couldn’t be happier for him. If there’s one guy I’m a fan of, other than my guys, it’s Josh.”