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Big win sets up showdown of first-place teams
Williams (11) walks toward the free-throw line with his teammates late in the second half. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Batman found himself a new Robin.

Sierra standout guard Christian Williams did what Christian Williams usually does, scoring a game-high 24 points in the Timberwolves’ 62-58 victory over Sonora in a Valley Oak League battle between contenders.

Just as big was the play of backcourt mate Trevor Nogueira, who drained five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points and four assists.

With 6-foot-4 center Tyler Willis, Sierra’s second leading scorer and top rebounder, out for the season with a knee injury, Nogueira has been called upon to fill the offensive void.

“I just told Trevor to shoot,” said Williams, who sealed the win by burying three of four free throws. “After we lost Tyler, we’ve been needing to him to step up big. He’s holding his part down and this was a big game for him. I think he’s found his identity on this team.”

The last of Nogueria’s threes came with 3:38 left, widening Sierra’s lead to 10, 55-45.

Sonora (6-3, 13-7 overall) came charging back over the final minutes. Aren Forster (12 points) converted a three-point play, and Matt Relei and Josh Martin hit back-to-back threes to highlight a 9-2 run.

Zach Gorgas’ off-kilter layup made it 59-58, but Sonora turned it over while down three with under 15 seconds left. Sonora hoped to draw a double-team down low, but its star forward, Brenden Evans (22 points, 12 rebounds) couldn’t handle the entry pass.

“We were trying to go in then out,” said Sonora coach Rick Francis, who earned his 600th career victory last Friday. “Every time we got the ball inside to Evans, they would just collapse.

“We were planning to go in and kick it back out because Martin is our best 3-pointers shooters, but the ball went through (Evans’) hands. It happens.”

The Wildcats did well to stay in the game throughout after starting slow. Williams hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the game to cap Sierra’s 8-0 run to start, and Sonora countered with seven straight points.

Sierra never trailed despite its posts playing in foul trouble.

“It was a grind-out game, and it was kind of what we expected,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight tonight. They’ve been playing very well lately, so they’re coming in with a lot of momentum.”

Sonora had been on a tear going into Wednesday, winning six of seven since losing to Sierra, 59-38, on its home floor Jan. 7.

During their recent win streak, the Wildcats handed first-place Manteca its first league loss. The Timberwolves (8-1, 16-5) lost to Manteca 75-59 in their first meeting and will have their shot at revenge Friday at the Buffaloes’ Winter Gymnasium.

“We figured it wasn’t going to be the same game that it was in Sonora, so we just had to buckle down,” Williams said. “It was a big win for us. It was a good test before Friday.”