COLUMBIA — The Sierra High Timberwolves claw at their opponents, standing tall and defending tough, night in and night out.
Their clingy shirt-tugging physicality is their calling card, and it's seen every year at Columbia College's Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic.
Sierra annexed this title for the third straight year Saturday by working to a 56-47 victory over Central Catholic, the last team to win it all at Oak Pavilion before the Timberwolves' run.
"We like travelling up here," said coach Scott Thomason, who can't complain about the recent results. "We come up here to bond and come closer. I'm proud of our guys and how they dug deep."
Sierra guard Guillermo Nunez, the tournament MVP, typifies the Timberwolves (9-3). A member of all three Fuchs title teams, Nunez and fellow senior all-tournament choice Emmanuel Elijah combined for 44 points, 22 apiece.
For evidence on why the Timberwolves win more than their share of skirmishes for loose balls, look no further than Nunez and Elijah.
"He (Elijah) is a workhorse," Nunez said. "He does the dirty work for us."
Elijah, who plays taller than his 5-foot, 10-inch frame, netted a 3-pointer with 1:53 left in third quarter to break a 30-30 tie. Nunez followed with two free throws, Elijah hustled home an offensive rebound, and soon Sierra broke loose on an 11-3 run. Central (12-2) didn't climb within six points again.
"Elijah is super-quick and athletic," Thomason praised, "and Guillermo played big-time."
The appealing matchup Sierra's backcourt talent vs. CC's power eventually tilted toward the Timberwolves.
Central Catholic never found its mojo. Center John Fenton, saddled with two fouls in the game's first four minutes, was assessed his third midway through the second quarter and managed only eight points, 12 below his average.
The Raiders also missed 6-6 forward Jake Bland (family trip). Thus empowered, Sierra harassed Fenton and Johnathan Boddie, though Boddie turned in his best game of the tournament with 14 points.
Guard Donovin Townsend (11 points) answered the Sierra guards with some blue-collar work of his own, but CC remains a work in progress. The Raiders have conducted only seven practices since they were fortified by members of the state-title football team.
Fenton and Townsend completed the all-tournament team.
ESCALON 54, MERCED 46 Alec Von Alvensleben, the Cougars' tough senior guard, parlayed his all-around athleticism into 25 points, an all-tournament selection and third place for his team. Escalon (9-6) built leads that reached 14 points until Merced (6-10) closed to 50-46, when Jon David all but clinched the win by banking in a triple with 1:05 left. Brian Gregorio showed strength in the paint en route to 17 points.
ATWATER 68, SUMMERVILLE 63 A smaller but quicker Atwater lineup pushed the tempo and offset a 28-point performance by Summerville's 6-3 guard Logen Foster to gain the consolation title. The Falcons' 12-point lead melted to 61-60 in the final minutes before Atwater stabilized. Ben Peterson (19 points), Josh Heller (18) and all-tournament guard Daniel Motz (18) paced an Atwater attack that produced eight 3-pointers. Joey Brocchini had 12 for Summerville (8-3).
BEYER 67, SONORA 46 The Patriots (7-9), stung by back-to-back losses here, recovered in the seventh-place game with big efforts from forward Zach Porterfield with 22 points and Anthony Galloway with 15. Quickness in the backcourt featuring Donovan Galloway with 11 points and Justice Harris with 10 launched a press that produced turnovers and keyed Beyer's gradual pull-away.
Ben Bates, a 6-7 senior post, led Sonora (4-9) with 14 points. Nick Mays had 11.