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Quiet contributors are key to first-place Sierras success
Sierras Tim Thornton attacks the basket while Brandon Michelucci of Lodi tries to draw an offensive foul during a nonleague contest. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Joseph Berry and Tim Thornton are two players with the same game and same body frame.

It’s not uncommon for some to confuse one for the other on the hardwood with the lanky 5-foot-11 Berry sporting his No. 10 jersey for Valley Oak League-leading Sierra High and the gangly 6-1 Thornton wearing No. 11.

They even share the same scoring average at 8.0 points per game — quiet production from two quiet kids.

It is also not uncommon for opposing teams to ignore these long-range bombers, and who can blame them? Point guard Guillermo Nunez is Sierra’s fire starter with his ability to drive and dish, and standout center Will Ward is a load for anyone to try and contain one on one.

The Timberwolves (9-0, 19-2 overall) are rolling into tonight’s home game with visiting Kimball riding an 18-game winning streak, doing so without supremely-gifted athletes and Division-I prospects.

They have players with clearly-defined roles, and every one of them relishes what Coach Scott Thomason asks of them.

Just ask Berry.

“Our roles are mainly to just shoot well and keep feeding Will,” Berry said after Tuesday’s 53-29 thrashing of Sonora.

While said in a somewhat joking tone, there is some truth to Berry’s statement. They do shoot well. And, yes, they “feed Will.”

Both were on full display during Tuesday’s contest. They each buried a 3-pointer, and they each scored on put-backs to combine for 10 points that keyed Sierra’s 16-3 run in the first quarter.

And in the second, they each fed Will for rim-rocking dunks. The first came with 6:16 left in the half. Sonora sat in its 1-3-1 zone, offering the 6-5 Ward more room to roam along the baseline. Berry recognized this with the ball in his hands on the left wing. He lofted a perfect alley-oop pass to the big man, who finished off the play with a slam.

Later, Ward threw down an and-one dunk in transition. This was made possible by Thornton, who passed up an open 3 from the right corner and zipped it inside to the streaking Ward.

Berry would finish with 11 points while sinking three 3s. He is shooting at a 75-percent clip (21-of-28) from the foul line and 34 percent on 3s (43-of-125).

Thornton settled for the five points he tallied in the first quarter, but the reserve guard didn’t gripe about it. He knows that his moments will come because of the team’s depth and generally unselfish play.

He has knocked down 90 percent (28-of-31) of his free throws and is 45 percent (41-of-92) from 3 range, so Thornton will have his looks.

“I like to come off the bench, just bring energy and confidence,” Thornton said. “I do what I can.

“We have a deep bench, and no matter who is in the game we play together really well. I think that’s what makes us better than a lot of other teams.”

In the preseason Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic at Columbia College, Thornton drilled five shots from beyond the arc for 15 points in Sierra’s 63-54 first-round win over Enochs. And in the finale, his four 3s and 12 points helped the Timberwolves capture the tournament title for a second straight year. Thornton was named to the all-tournament team.

More championships could be on their way to Sierra in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Berry and Thornton will do what they do. They will find the open spots and take the open shots. And they will continue to feed Will should anyone dare to extend the defense out to the perimeter.

It’s all they do, Berry insists, but his coach believes otherwise.

“They have really turned our team into a championship-level team,” he said.