MODESTO — Central Catholic coach Mike Wilson had three different players match up with Joshua Patton, Sierra’s 6-foot-8 standout heading to Sacramento State.
He employed a man-to-man defense, switched to a 2-3 and gave the 3-2 a shot.
Nothing seemed to work, except for getting Patton into foul trouble. Even then there was no stopping the Timberwolves’ roll in Wednesday’s Valley Oak League contest.
“It’s like they practice here, huh?” Wilson joked after Sierra stomped his Raiders 69-51 on their home floor.
Patton finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks despite playing about half the game. Hunter Johnson, also stumped by fouls in the middle periods, led all scorers with 18 points and accounted for four of Sierra’s 10 3-pointers. Devin Nunez buried three treys in the first half for his nine points while dishing out seven assists for the game. Jess Spivey also had nine points, all scored in the second half.
“We wanted to jump on them and make sure they didn’t gain any confidence as the game was going on because they’re a good, solid team,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said.
Sierra (10-0 Valley Oak League, 21-2 overall) seized control at the outset and led 21-5 after Patton’s second dunk of the opening period. His early dominance —he scored 10 points in the first quarter — freed up guards and the 6-4 forward Johnson to hit open shots from the perimeter. And when the Raiders extended the defense Sierra was able to hurt them inside with Patton and Johnson.
“I should have went to the 3-2 zone earlier, but the fact of the matter is when you’ve got a kid like they’ve got inside it’s a matchup problem for us,” Wilson said. “And then they shoot the ball so darn well. They’re smart basketball players. If you make a mistake they make you pay for it.”
Not that Central Catholic is short on size with 6-6 wing Peter Hamilton (eight points) and 6-8 Jordan Boddie (eight points, six rebounds, four blocks) patrolling the paint. The Raiders were led by sophomore guards Jared Rice and Cooper Wilson, who fired 17 and 12 points, respectively. Wilson hit four 3s from NBA range and beyond.
The third quarter was key for Sierra, as both Johnson and Patton picked up their third fouls. Even with its two best players out, the Timberwolves were able to expand on their 37-25 halftime lead by outscoring Central 17-10 in the period. Jakob Gallagher gave Sierra key minutes off the bench with the team’s bigs sidelined with foul trouble and contributed six points.
“Gallagher got some put-backs. You try and find away to get six to 10 garbage points that’s big in a 32-minute game,” Thomason said. “Luckily we had a lead in the third quarter because we had to manage those fouls. That was big. I felt a little more comfortable with a nice lead.”
Having been swept by Sierra, Manteca and Weston Ranch, Central Catholic (4-6, 12-11) was mathematically knocked out of contention for a top-three spot and automatic playoff berth in the VOL but stands a good chance at cracking the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division IV field with an at-large bid.
“Central Catholic is going to be fine,” Thomason said. “They’re going to win some games and do well in the playoffs.”
Sierra holds a one-game lead over Manteca in its VOL title defense and hosts intra-city foe East Union on Friday.
“We’re trying to win a league title right now,” Thomason said. “We’re trying to get in a playoff mode and play with a sense of urgency. Every game for us is a championship game.”
Central Catholic 47,
Jamille Grady amassed 21 points and scored 12 of his team’s 20 points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough for Sierra to pull out the road win. The Timberwolves led 14-7 after the first quarter but struggled on the offensive end from there.
Victor Elijah contributed 13 points for Sierra.