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Sierra in top form against hapless EU
Injured center Willis makes return to spark playoff-bound Timberwolves
Sierra’s David Keating tries to knock the ball free from the hands of East Union’s Nick Garcia. - photo by Wayne Thallander
Head coach Scott Thomason is hoping that his Sierra Timberwolves are beginning to round into shape for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with a week left in the Valley Oak League season.

Sierra welcomed back Tyler Willis (knee), who had missed a month’s worth of action, and put forth its best defensive effort in weeks during Friday’s 54-26 throttling of visiting crosstown rival East Union.

It was the second lowest output allowed by Sierra (10-2, 18-6 overall) all season.

The performance was a welcomed sight for Thomason after his squad struggled to put away last-place Oakdale in Wednesday’s 54-37 victory. Oakdale trailed by just six with five minutes to go before Sierra closed it with an 11-2 run.

“We had more purpose about us, more passion and more poise,” Thomason said. “The three ‘P’s’ were in effect for us tonight.”

Christian Williams led Sierra with 23 points, and Chris Choate added 10.

Willis, who was Sierra’s second-leading scorer and best rebounder before injuring his knee in the first quarter of a 75-59 loss to Manteca Jan. 16, was expected to be back next Wednesday but was given the go-ahead by his doctor.

The original diagnosis to his ailment was torn ligaments, which would have kept him out for the remainder of the season, but it was discovered to be a dislocated kneecap.

Though the 6-foot-4 center had just four points in limited time, Thomason said that his return to the lineup alone was enough to provide the rest of the Timberwolves an inspirational spark.

“He looked pretty good,” Thomason said. “I didn’t want him to play, but he did. He only played a couple of minutes but gave us a boost. I’m excited for him.”

Sierra took control early, jumping out to an 11-2 lead after one, though the Lancers (3-9, 4-19) climbed back into it and trailed just 22-15 at halftime. The Timberwolves broke it open in the third with a 17-3 spurt sparked by the defense.

Tyler Bylow finished with 11 points for East Union.

“Our defensive effort in the second half was outstanding,” Thomason said. “It was a good, overall team effort in which we executed very well. We did an excellent job on Ricky Inderbitzin and held him to three points.”

East Union wraps up the season with Oakdale on the road next Wednesday before playing host to Manteca Friday.

Sierra looks to improve its playoff position with wins over Central Valley and dangerous Weston Ranch.

With Manteca playing Sonora, which handle the Buffaloes’ their only league loss, next Wednesday, theTimberwolves still have a chance to steal at least a portion of the league title with Manteca ahead by a game with two to go.

“We’re just looking to build some momentum these last few games, and that’s important for us to do to get ready for the playoffs,” Thomason said. “We want to play our best basketball at the end of the year.”

— Jonamar Jacinto