MANTECA — The celebration at the final buzzer was a little larger than usual for the first full night of boys’ playoff action.
But then, for Central Valley High, the 60-43 victory over Sierra went well beyond the Hawks getting to advance to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 playoffs.
No, this jubilation was nothing short of a coming-of-age party – giddiness over a first-ever playoff victory for a young program that has taken more than its share of lumps in its eight varsity seasons.
Junior guards Jaron Dickson and Deavon Brown scored 15 points apiece to lead four players in double figures, and the Hawks jumped on Sierra early by connecting on seven-of-nine 3-point attempts in the first quarter.
“It’s been a lot of hard work and we’ve had a lot of years where it’s been really bad,” said coach Darryl Dickson. “But we just kept working at it because we knew it would eventually cycle around. We have a great group of kids with no egos, and I’m so excited and happy for them.”
In seven years of varsity play, Central Valley went 59-130, never posting a winning record. This season, the stars have aligned for the Hawks, who will take a 22-6 record into Friday’s quarterfinal game at Fairfield.
Sierra, a section finalist last season, finished 20-7 after winning the Valley Oak League title, suffering its first opening-round defeat since 2010.
There was some question whether the Timberwolves were as confident coming in as they needed to be after dropping tow of its final three regular season games, but coach Scott Thomason put that notion to rest.
“We were ready to go, but Central Valley hit some tough shots in that first quarter,” Thomason said. “We wanted to deliver the first blow and we let them do that instead.”
And quite a blow it was. Jaron Dickson drilled his first two shots, both from NBA 3-point range, and the Hawks were off-and-gunning. Dickson had three 3-pointers and Brown added two as the No. 11 seed stunned the No. 6 seed with a 25-11 lead after the first quarter.
“We got off to a great start and we knew that was going to be the key,” Darryl Dickson said. “Sierra has been here, they’ve been to the finals, and they know what to do.
“I was worried we might come out a little nervous. But when Jaron, who can be streaky, hit his first shot and then hit his second, I knew we were going to be OK.”
Sierra did make a second-quarter run, and it was fueled by a press. It didn’t cause turnovers, but when Central Valley broke the pressure it settled for quick shots.
“Instead of playing our game, we played into their hands by taking quick shots,” Brown said. “At halftime we just slowed it down.”
Sierra did manage to pull within 33-31 early in the third quarter, but Ryan Donnelly (13 points) stepped outside to hit a 3-pointer that started an 8-1 run that gave the Hawks a 41-32 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Timberwolves, who got 16 points from Hunter Johnson and 14 from fellow junior Joshua Patton, successfully attacked the basket in an effort to get to the foul line. But once alone at the stripe, they killed their own chances by making only eight of 21 free throws. including five straight misses during a game-clinching 13-0 Central Valley run.
“We had the fire because we’ve been under the radar all season,” said Brown. a junior guard. “This is a big achievement and we’re looking for more.”