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Sierra blows late 10-point lead, falls to Miramonte in OT
Sierra defender Tim Thornton tries to draw the foul on Miramontes Joey Goodreault. - photo by HIME ROMERO

One free throw.

One rebound.

Either or both would have been Sierra High’s ticket to the second round of the CIF Northern California Division III playoffs.

The eighth-seeded Timberwolves were a meager 9-for-21 from the foul line and had three opportunities to seal the game with a defensive rebound in the closing seconds of regulation in Wednesday’s NorCal opener against visiting Miramonte of Orinda.

Miramonte standout Kiran Shastri scored the tying bucket with 4 seconds to go then poured in 12 of his 38 points in overtime to lead the ninth-seeded Matadors’ 73-68 victory. They will next face top-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral in San Francisco on Saturday.

“We did everything we could to lose that game,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said.

Sierra (27-4) went up 60-50 on Guillermo Nunez’s 3-pointer — his sixth of the contest and the 11th overall for the Timberwolves — but was scoreless for the final 2 minutes, 57 seconds of the fourth period. They had two chances to stretch a two-point lead with 32.1 and 30.5 seconds to go but missed the front end of one-and-one free throws.

That gave Miramonte plenty of time to tie it late. The Matadors instead chose to go for the lead, chucking up three 3-pointers and hauling in the offensive rebound following every attempt. Shastri was there for the last board, leading to the uncontested equalizer.

“When I get the ball I just kind of do what I can,” Shastri said. “My teammates were getting me the ball in the right spots, and at the end (of regulation) I just so happened to be in the right spot.”

The 6-foot-5 junior isn’t an explosive athlete by any means, but he was able to get to the rim at will with smooth and subtle moves. Shastri can also do the dirty work as evidenced by his team-highs 10 rebounds and four blocks.

“We did a poor job on him,” Thomason said. “We knew he was a good 3-point shooter but we could live with that. We just wanted to challenge his shots and didn’t want him to get to the basket.

“Give him a lot of credit, he and 24 (Joey Goodreault) were the best two players on the court.”

Goodreault, a 6-3 sophomore point guard, finished with 13 points and five assists. Ross Anderson, a 6-5 forward, added 13 points and five rebounds.

Leading the way for Sierra was Nunez, who turned in 20 points. Tim Thornton buried five 3-pointers and had 17 points. The backcourt tandem pulled the Timberwolves out of a nine-point deficit, 37-28, in the third quarter.

At one point in the second half, Nunez and Thornton accounted for seven straight Sierra field goals — all from 3-point range. Reserve forward D’Ari Allen also played a part in the comeback, providing a boost with a breakaway dunk that closed the Timberwolves in 39-38 with 2:47 left in the third.

Sierra led 18-12 at the end of the first quarter, but Miramonte rallied with a 16-2 run to start the second. The Matadors took a 30-25 lead and the momentum into halftime.

“I didn’t like our mindset in the first half,” Thomason said. “If we were going to go down I wanted us to go down fighting, and I think we did do that. You’ve got to give Miramonte a lot of credit; they made big plays when they needed to.”

Emmanuel Elijah contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and five steals for Sierra. Senior center Will Ward wrapped up his decorated three-year varsity career with 11 points, nine boards and four assists.

It was a heartbreaking way to end what has otherwise been a benchmark season for Sierra, which captured its third Valley Oak League title and took a program-record 26-game winning streak into Power Balance Pavilion, the site of last Friday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game.

Foothill won the SJS title decisively, 74-52, while Sierra went on to lose back-to-back for the first and only time of the season.