STOCKTON — The Wolf Pack spilled out of the stands, washing the court in blues, grays and whites.
A celebration this grandiose explains the journey, the opposition and the promise one coach made to a class of eager-to-please freshmen four years ago.
The Sierra High boys basketball clinched the outright Valley Oak League title on Friday evening with an electric 70-56 victory over Weston Ranch, adding a cherry to a four-peat it had already clinched two days earlier with a win at Manteca High.
But this was Weston Ranch, a program loaded with young star power; a program poised to push the Timberwolves over the next few years.
Sierra’s celebration wasn’t complete, it would seem, until it finished off all of its threats, and so they chased the Cougars off their floor on Friday evening.
Josh Patton and Hunter Johnson each had double-doubles and the Timberwolves turned an entertaining nail-biter into a rout with free throws down the stretch, triggering the dance party behind enemy lines.
The Wolf Pack began serenading its four-time VOL champions with 8.7 seconds to go. Soon, commemorative T-shirts began to circulate amongst the players on the bench.
The championship is the third for the Class of 2015, a run that includes two varsity titles and a freshman crown.
“I’m proud of our guys. I promised them when they stepped in this program as a freshmen if they were coachable and played hard, I promised championships for them,” coach Scott Thomason said. “I feel like I did my job and they did their job.”
Patton finished with 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. The Sacramento State-bound center earned the praise of Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan, who commended the 6-foot-8 senior for his sportsmanship and play.
Johnson had 22 points and 16 rebounds. He sealed the win with six of Sierra’s eight free throws in the final minute. The Timberwolves (13-0, 24-2) closed the game on an 11-0 run.
Up until that point, the game was ripe for the taking. Both teams turned in a playoff-caliber performance, trading shots at a frenetic pace, like two desperate boxers in the 12th round.
Weston Ranch leaned on its fearless guard play led by Jaelen Ragsdale, Jazz Swanson and Tre Simmons, who combined for 38 points and eight 3-pointers.
Sierra countered with its unflappable post, Patton and Johnson, best friends since preschool.
Sierra led by as many as 14 points in the first half, but Weston Ranch closed to within four at the intermission thanks to a 10-0 run in a 50-second span.
Ragsdale finished with 16 points, while Simmons and Swanson notched 11 apiece for the playoff-bound Cougars (9-4, 16-10), third in the VOL.
“When you can shoot 3s at high level and you pressure and there are a lot of possessions in the game, you can get back into games really quick,” Teevan said.
Swanson forced two turnovers to spark the blitz. He turned one into a fastbreak layup and the other resulted in a Fred Lavender 3. Ragsdale made it 34-30 at the break with a pair of free throws and a corner 3 that sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
Just like that, Sierra, despite outrebounding Weston Ranch 24-9 in the first half, had a game on its hands.
The Cougars’ full-court press rattled the Timberwolves, who committed seven of their 10 first-half turnovers in the second quarter.
“There were a couple of times we started feeling the pressure. Our poise wasn’t great,” Thomason said.
It was much of the same in the third quarter. Weston Ranch pressed and pushed its way into the lead at the 4:38 mark on a 3-pointer by Simmons, 39-38.
Patton answered immediately at the other end, setting the tone for a back-and-forth finish.
The Cougars took their final lead, 45-44, on a pull-up 3 by Swanson to start the fourth. Like he did so often, though, Patton responded with a three-point play of his own.
His alley-oop dunk in transition moments later capped an 8-0 run.
Weston Ranch would pull within three on Jordan Strane’s layup, 59-56, with 1:27 left. He was fouled on the play by Patton, but missed the free throw.
The Cougars wouldn’t score again the rest of the game.
Nunez converted a wide-open 3 with 1:04 left and Sierra made all eight of its free throws in the final 42.4 seconds to extend its winning streak to nine.
The loss continues a familiar trend for these tough-luck Cougars, who have played Sierra to a one-possession game in the final moments in three of their last four meetings.
During that stretch, Weston Ranch is 0-4 against the Valley Oak League’s resident champ.
Teevan understands it is a process. He’ll take his lumps now – just as long as his young nucleus learns from the losses.
“You can’t skip steps,” Teevan said. “We have to feel this pain if we want to get where we want to be.”
“As frustrated as they may feel and as bad I want it, you have to keep it in perspective,” he added. “All of my guys are coming back. If we don’t learn it’s pointless. We have to learn and keep it going.”
Sierra looks to complete its perfect run through the VOL at Lathrop, while Weston Ranch travels to Kimball for its finale.
“This group is very special, I know that,” Thomason said. “We’ve worked hard. We’re going to have sense of urgency and try to play our best basketball right now.”
Weston Ranch 54,
Rahim Kelly (eight points) and Chedrick Ordonez (17 points) hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the overtime period for the Cougars.
Noah Ault and Jamille Grady paced the Timberwolves with 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Weston Ranch 62
The Timberwolves took control of the game with a 14-7 third-quarter run. Jaime Ochoa netted 23 points on four 3-pointers and Carson Anderson had 17 in the win.
Weston Ranch’s Charles Jameson led all scorers with 27 points, including six 3-pointers.