SACRAMENTO — The game starts before the game for a perimeter marksman like Tim Thornton.
During pregame warm-ups for Tuesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal with No. 3-seeded Center, the reserve guard was on the mark on his first two 3-point attempts.
He knew then that it could be a special night. And it was, for both he and the Timberwolves at Consumnes River College.
Thornton sank his first four 3s in the second quarter en route to scoring a game-high 24 points in No. 2 Sierra’s 67-50 victory.
The Timberwolves (27-2) have now won a section-leading 26th straight, and this one sends them to Friday’s championship game at Power Balance Pavilion. There, they will tangle with top-seeded Foothill (27-3) of Sacramento, a 59-39 winner over No. 4 Lindhurst.
Thornton made 6 of 8 from behind the arc — one make shy of the section’s single-game record.
“Maybe I’ll do that on Friday,” Thornton said with a smile.
Will Ward was Sierra’s other star Tuesday. The Valley Oak League’s Most Valuable Player had one of his most dominant performances of the season with 19 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and even four assists.
“I just let myself play and didn’t think about it too much,” the 6-foot-5 center said. “I felt like last game I was thinking about things too much.
“You have to get the last game out your head in the playoffs. It’s a one-game season, that’s how we approach it.”
From an offensive standpoint, it was a night-and-day effort from last Friday’s 49-44 second-round win over upset-minded Los Banos.
Defensively, it was the same old same old.
“Defense and rebounding got us here to this point,” said Sierra coach Scott Thomason.
“We can beat you different ways,” he added. “In the Los Banos game we didn’t shoot very well but we still found ways to go win that game.”
On Tuesday, Center (21-8) couldn’t find ways to slow down Sierra’s inside-outside attack or get its standout player, 6-foot-4 guard Christopher Smith, untracked. The Cougars held just two leads, both coming early in the second quarter.
Then Thornton took over.
Sierra led 32-24 at halftime and Center got no closer than five the rest of the way.
“They played the perfect game and there was nothing we could do against them,” Center coach Ray Gagnon said. “They played the better game tonight and they were the better team tonight.”
Smith, who came in averaging 21 points per game, was held to a quiet 15. Myles Hunter did the most damage for the Cougars, as he drained four 3s for the bulk of his 16 points.
Emmanuel Elijah, who Thomason calls, “The best defensive player around,” sparked Sierra early on. He scored the game’s first points with 6:07 left in the first quarter in transition, intercepting a pass near midcourt and jolting the other way for an easy basket.
Elijah had three of his four steals in the first quarter alone, and even though his minutes were limited because of foul trouble his mark was left on the game.
“There hasn’t been a game all year where he hasn’t been the quickest and most athletic guy on the court,” Thomason said. “Tonight, he was the quickest and most athletic guy on the court. He plays hard, he competes and he has the attitude that he wants to play defense.”
Sierra will meet Foothill at 9 p.m. Friday with hopes of capturing the program’s first section title. The Timberwolves reached the Division III finale in 2001 but lost a 48-47 heartbreaker to Riverbank on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.