This may not be the veteran Sierra team that made the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals the last two years, but it is still Sierra.
And the Timberwolves appear to have found their groove.
They are undefeated through two Valley Oak League contests after dispatching visiting rival East Union 53-41 on Thursday, doing it with perimeter shooting, interior toughness and defense — the same recipe that coach Scott Thomason has concocted for successful teams of years past.
It is the fourth straight game that the VOL’s two-time defending champion, now 9-5 overall, has held an opponent to less than 50 points.
“Last couple of weeks we’ve been putting some things together,” Thomason said. “I like the way our guys are starting to play together, we have good team chemistry. We came back to our identity; we do what we do best.
“If we can learn to shoot the ball well and take care of it a little better good things are going to happen.”
Sierra had no trouble getting shots to fall early on. It was able to overcome three turnovers in its first four possessions by draining its first four 3-pointers, two each from juniors Devin Nunez and Jakob Gallagher. The early barrage helped the Timberwolves build an 18-3 by the end of the period.
“Especially since it was against a crosstown rival, we had to set the tone,” said Nunez, who shared team-high honors with 12 points.
East Union (0-2, 7-6), to its credit, weathered the storm and started the second with a 13-2 run ignited by Drew Ruiz, who poured in 10 of his 13 in the quarter. The Lancers couldn’t close the gap, then at 20-16, any further, as Sierra answered with a 9-2 flurry. Sophomore Daniel Wyatt capped it off by making three free throws after he was fouled before the buzzer while attempting a 3 from the top of the key.
Jake Danhoff, EU’s standout 6-foot-6 center, led another comeback charge in the third when he scored nine points. The Lancers trailed 39-34 going into the fourth after beginning the second half in a 29-18 hole.
Sierra again responded, starting the fourth with seven unanswered points while holding East Union to just seven for the entire period.
“Once we settled down we did some good things offensively for some stretches and we did some good things defensively for some stretches,” East Union coach Ryan Tarr said. “We put some runs together we just couldn’t sustain anything.
“It’s hard to play from behind against any team, but against a good defensive team like Sierra it’s even tougher.”
Danhoff finished with 14 points, including two 3s, and eight rebounds for the Lancers. Overall, Sierra won the battle inside, out-rebounding the visitors 35-23. East Union only had two boards in the opening quarter while the Timberwolves grabbed 11.
Jonnythan Munkholm, one of five Sierra post players who stand 6-4 or taller, had 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Six-foot-7 junior Joshua Patton added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“We’re not intimidated by anyone,” Munkholm said. “Our coach challenged us in practice the last couple of days and we had to step up.
“We may not have the best big man in the VOL, I’ll leave that distinction to Danhoff, but collectively I believe that we are definitely better than any group in the VOL.”
East Union 50, Sierra 35
What was a three-point game heading into the fourth turned into a blowout, as the Squires ended on a 14-2 run.
Gyse Hulsebosch and Austin Miller each scored 11 to pace East Union, while Ogun Delaney turned in 12 for Sierra.
East Union 69, Sierra 38
Ten different players for East Union as it rolled to another landside victory.
Jordan Barahas and D.J. Sihota pumped in 13 points apiece, and Cris Molina added 12 in the balanced effort for the Pages. Jamille Grady led Sierra with 15 points, including three 3-pointers.