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Sierras Ward comes up big in physical matchup
Point guard Guillermo Nunez breaks through the Placer defense of Cody Riggs and Michael Wiebelhaus. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Sierra High made it 24 straight wins on Wednesday.

In a physical matchup, the Timberwolves defeated visiting Placer in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III first-round game, 61-45.

Sierra coach Scott Thomason called it a grind-it-out type of game. “We had hard time getting into a rhythm,” he said.

The Timberwolves (25-2) were led by Will Ward. The 6-foot-5 senior center hit eight of his game-high 19 points in the final period, collecting 10 boards, two steals and a block.

“Ward hurt us,” said Mark Lee, coach of the Hillmen. “We had to decide how to guard him.

“But it’s a ‘catch 22’ – if you collapse (the defense) on him then you leave someone open.”

In this case, Tim Thornton, Joseph Berry, D’ari Allen and Guillermo Nunez found their shots against Placer (17-11).

Thornton and Berry both hit third-quarter 3s while tallying 10 and eight points, respectively.

“They put a lot of pressure on the ball (defensively),” Berry said on the Hillmen. “Thankfully, we had Will as an outlet – he’s a great facilitator.”

Ward noted that Placer, in a way, was reminded him of Sonora. “This team is not as tall but played a strong 2-3 zone,” he added.

According to Lee, the No. 15 seeded Hillmen were thrilled to be in the postseason.

“My seniors, in particular, had never been to the playoffs,” he said.

They hustled their way for second-chance points and battled for every rebound. Isaiah Pineiro, Placer’s 6-4 junior forward, hit 10 of his 12 free throws and got his points with strong drives to the hoop.

He finished with 16 points and eight boards.

Pineiro helped the Hillmen trim a 47-34 deficit at the top of the fourth down to nine.

But Ward put an end to any upset hopes by Placer by throwing down his second one-handed dunk of the game.

From there, he took passes from Nunez, scoring three more baskets to give his team a comfortable 55-42 lead in the waning minutes. Thornton, Berry and Eric Melgar then added the finishing touch by connecting on their free throw tries.

Nunez controlled the tempo, netting 10 points with eight assists and three steals.

Allen came off the bench, scoring eight points with three boards and two thefts. Justin Patton and Emmanuel Elijah sparked the defense, with Elijah getting four steals and six rebounds.

“Everyone on this team has a role,” Thomason said. “I’m proud that we won but we‘ll need to play better come Friday night.”

That’s when No. 2 seeded Sierra will host No. 7 Los Banos.

The Tigers defeated No. 10 Casa Robles, 50-45.