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Sierra overcomes much in overtime win over Vanden
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SACRAMENTO — Hunter Johnson and Daniel Wyatt weren’t at full strength to begin with.

Making matters worse for third-seeded Sierra, which had blown a 20-point, second-half lead against No. 2 Vanden, two other starters were fouled out of the game as the thrilling Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal went into an extra period Tuesday at Cosumnes River College.

No problem, says Johnson.

“When one wolf goes down we have another wolf coming in,” the 6-foot-4 senior forward said. “It’s a pack. We all rely on one another.”

Johnson and Wyatt, both sick, came through with clutch baskets for Sierra, which prevailed 76-72 to secure the program’s third final-round berth in the last four years and fourth overall. Johnson produced 22 points and 11 rebounds for his third straight double-double in the postseason, while the emerging Wyatt scored 23 points to go with six steals.

They each hit a 3-pointer in overtime to give Sierra (28-2) a 72-66 lead and combined to make 6 of 8 free throws. It was a much-needed boost for the T’Wolves after 6-foot-8 center Joshua Patton (10 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) and Jess Spivey (nine rebounds) both fouled out early in the fourth quarter. Devin Nunez, arguably Sierra’s hottest player coming into the contest, drilled four more 3s and finished with 14 points but was held scoreless in the fourth and overtime periods.

 “I can’t be more proud of the team right now,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “We have guys fouling out, we lost momentum, got careless with the ball, let them come back in the game and did some silly things out on the court.

“For us to hold our composure and make plays when we needed to, I’m just so proud of our guys. D.J. was very sick today and made some big-time plays. He hit that big 3 in overtime and Hunter came right back down with a dagger.”

Wyatt said Sierra’s previous playoff contests with Fairfield and Vallejo — two of Vanden’s rivals in the Solano County Athletic Conference — helped get it over the hump Tuesday. Led by SCAC MVP DeMarre Walker, the Vikings (24-6) came charging back from a 44-24 deficit staked by Ogun Delaney’s free throws with 4:20 left in the third quarter. Down 53-38, they opened the fourth on a 13-3 run and eventually tied it, 63-63, with Walker’s 3-pointer with 32 seconds remaining.

Wyatt later missed a contested layup at the end of regulation.

“All of these teams were extremely athletic,” Wyatt said of Sierra’s postseason foils. “They pressured us a lot. We knew had to (handle) the pressure. We prepared for the press in practice and got it done.”

While Vanden’s 6-8 tandem of Jihad Woods (13 points, rebounds) and Jansen Smith was more of a factor in the first half, it was the guards that spearheaded the comeback. Thomas Avent scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half while adding four assists and five steals overall. Phoenix Shackleford hit two 3s in overtime to keep the Vikings in it and Walker paced them with 23 points.

Walker, however, fouled out just 15 seconds into overtime after Wyatt beat him to a loose ball to create a turnover.

“What a player he is,” Thomason said of Walker. He has the ability to shoot and drive. We were in man (defense) all game and late we went to a zone defense that slowed him down a little bit, kept him out of the paint. Him fouling out was big but our guys fouled out too. Guys stepped up off the bench.”

Up next: a third date with Valley Oak League rival Weston Ranch.

“We’ve got one more big game ahead of us against an opponent we know pretty well,” Johnson said. “I feel good about the win but we’re not done.”