MANTECA — Twenty seconds after the tip Wednesday night, Guillermo Nunez drained Sierra High's first shot, a baseline triple.
Ceres responded with a nervous turnover, then Caden Johnson's layup in transition was swatted away by the Timberwolves' Justin Patton.
So started the Sierra tsunami, a tidal wave that drowned the Bulldogs almost before they exited the bus.
The first-round Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 game soon transitioned into a physics lesson taught by the faster, quicker and stronger home team, 66-25.
"Teammates were finding teammates. We were sharing the ball," said Nunez, Sierra's three-year varsity standout after his six 3-pointers and 24 points. "We were diving for loose balls. We were just ready to play."
Ceres (14-13) hoped it had washed away the memory of a 60-38 loss to Sierra on the same court nearly three months ago. Indeed, the Bulldogs won four of their last five games.
Things changed, all right. Sierra (24-4) grew into a beast.
The Timberwolves hung a second-period bagel, a 21-0 blitz and a 42-4 halftime deficit on their shellshocked guests. A fourth-period running clock brought the proceedings to a humane end.
"They were prepared. We just stayed on our heels," said Ceres guard Jim Pernetti, one of the Bulldogs' two seniors. "Those guys are great every year. You know they'll hit you. You've gotta hit them back."
No counter-punch was thrown, however, and Ceres was chased home while No. 2-seeded Sierra awaits a visit from Placer a 62-59 victor over Inderkum Friday night.
Sierra's energy and pace, often ratcheted up immediately, are calling cards of veteran coach Scott Thomason. Fending off the early storm, and answering with some thunderclouds, is a must for any Timberwolves opponent.
But Sierra's opening riff against Ceres wasn't your standard issue rally. Nunez and fellow guard Eric Melgar (11 points) netted five of their first six tries from the arc, the beginning of a 9-for-14 3-point strafing.
Defensively, Sierra choked passing lanes and stole the ball, thus triggering one fast break after the next. Ceres was forced into a speed it couldn't sustain while Sierra attached assists to most of its hoops.
"Ceres is a good team. You have to be good to get here," Thomason offered. "We just made them look bad tonight.
"If Sierra was stung by its late-season loss to Weston Ranch that resulted in a Valley Oak League co-title, it showed no after-effects. Thomason, mirroring his team's hustle, sometimes trotted his subs from the bench to the scorer's table.
The message: Sierra, a section finalist a year ago, aims for more. Much more.
"Our guys were just hungry," Thomason said. "Our team wants to take the program to the next level."
Sac-Joaquin SectionBasketball Playoffs
Golden Valley 50, Oak Ridge 49
Franklin (EG) 67, Turlock 65
Burbank 76, Gregori 54
Cosumnes Oaks 89,Buhach Colony 88
Modesto Chr. 58, Manteca 16
Sierra 66, Ceres 25
Patterson 68, Vanden 61
Casa Roble 80, East Union 60
Riverbank 83, Waterford 46
Summerville 70, Delhi 33
Colfax 75, Hughson 48
West Campus 73, Escalon 63
Liberty Ranch 75, Mariposa 48
Encina 75, Ripon 60
Turlock Christian 70, Lodi Academy 53
Bethel at Golden Valley
Fairfield at Modesto Christian, Placer at Sierra, Patterson at Casa Roble
Bret Harte at Riverbank, Encina at Summerville
Buckingham Charter at Central Catholic, Delta Charter at Ripon Christian
Turlock Christian at Faith Christian
Ripon 54, Bret Harte 30
Florin at Gregori
Modesto Christian at Rio Americano
Patterson at Placer
Manteca at Vanden
Ripon at Argonaut
Woodland Christian at Ripon Christian
Foresthill at Turlock Christian
Central Catholic at Brookside Christian