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Sonora vs. Summerville hoops — Game on!


SONORA'S MARK RELEI takes aim for the Wildcats in a preseason contest earlier this year against Pitman. Relei and his teammates will host intra-county rival Summerville on Tuesday night at Bud Castle Gym. Tipoff time is 7:15.
This one needs no hype.
    It’s the Green and Gold vs. the Black and Orange.
    On Tuesday, the Sonora Wildcats will host the Summerville Bears.
    Says Sonora’s legendary head coach Rick Francis, the winningest coach in Northern California history, “We’re all pretty fortunate to have so many great kids in Tuolumne County who went to grammar school and elementary school together and, on this one night, will play against each other — with each of the kids bleeding the colors of their respective schools. But after the game, they are all able to shake hands and ask each other, ‘OK, where should we meet for hamburgers and fries?’ ”

   Sonora senior Tyler Thompson has been anxiously awaiting this contest for a year.
    “This is my last time playing against Summerville and I want us to go out with a bang,” said Thompson. “I don’t want to lose against them like we did last year (51-43). All of us are pretty good friends with the kids on the Summerville team. But when we get on the court on Tuesday, we will want to beat them just like they’re any other opponent. Actually, we’ll want to win this game more than we want to win against any other opponent.”
    “It’s a big-time game in a big-time rivalry,” said Zach Gorgas, who graduated from Sonora in 2010 and now attends Columbia College.
    On Dec. 21, 2009, Gorgas, then a senior, scored a game-high 14 points in Sonora’s 54-39 win over Summerville.
    “You get especially fired up for this particular contest,” said Gorgas. “You’re playing against the guys you’ve grown up with and known all your life. The crowd is loud. And I suspect that both teams have been practicing even harder than normal — just so they’d get to say they beat the other team. Having bragging rights in the county for a year is what you want.
    “Of course I’ll be out there on Tuesday rooting for Sonora,” said Gorgas. “I think this is gonna be a very competitive game.”
    Sonora is 3-2 and Summerville is 4-1.
    “I know Travis Arenas (Summerville’s star 6-5 forward) pretty well,” said Gorgas, “and he is looking good. He does a lot of things well. But Sonora is pretty tall.”
    And that’s the truth.
    At center, Thompson is 6-foot-9. He is joined on the front line by Mark Relei at 6-foot-7, Ben Bates 6-foot-6 and Nick Mays 6-5.
    “Sonora has guys that are halfway up the ceiling,” said Arenas. “We each must use our own skills to not let them use their height as an advantage.
    “Our intensity has been up a lot in practices. I expect to see a packed gym on Tuesday night because this is such a highly-anticipated game. There will be a lot of energy on that court.”
    Summerville appeared a little winded in its opening-game win over Mariposa on Nov. 29 and Arenas predicted head coach Ben Watson would, from the next day on, have his ballplayers running wind sprints. A lot of ‘em.
    “And that’s exactly what happened,” said Arenas. “As players, we saw it coming. Coach hasn’t stopped making us run ever since and it’s been good for us. Besides getting us in better physical condition, it’s also improved us mentally.”
    “The intensity is so high for this one game,” said Tige Wingo, who graduated from Summerville in May and was 2011-Area Area Tri-Most Valuable Player. “It’s so interesting because all of us are good friends but once you’re on that court it’s ... Game on!”
    Wingo suffered a season-ending foot injury last week while playing for Columbia.
    “I’ll be there on Tuesday rooting for Summerville along with Jared English (class of ‘11 and also a 2011-All-Area Tri-MVP honoree),” said Wingo. “Both teams have some height: Thompson is 6-9 and we have Rosendo (Amaya-Wood) at 6-7.
    “I think this game will come down to toughness. Who wants it most? The key will be getting the ball inside and drawing the foul. It will be SRO (standing-room-only) and this game deserves that.”
    “Winning this game is really important to us,” said Relei, a senior. “The bragging rights are key. My brothers Ryan (class of 2005) and Matt (‘09) still talk about winning this game.”
    “I’m not gonna lie,” says Kyle McLaurin, a 6-foot junior guard for the Bears, “bragging rights are a cool thing to have. I know our team is looking forward to it. It’s always something marked on our calenders. Sonora is well-coached, that’s unquestioned. And with Coach Watson, so are we.”
    “This is a fun rivalry not an ugly rivalry,” said Francis. “And on Tuesday night, whatever 10 kids are out on that floor will be playing their hearts out.
    “Ben always does a great job coaching and last year, when he coached with Marlen Ronten (who passed away in October), they did great. Summerville is again an excellent team. Travis Arenas may be one of the best players in this part of the section. If we step on that court not ready to play, we’ll get stung. Hopefully, we will be ready because I know Ben will have his kids ready. We’re Division IV now, like Summerville, so this is a huge game with regards to power ratings and playoffs.
    “We are big but that’s only a part of the game. If you’re big, you must play big. We have worked so hard since last year in the weight room and each of our guys broke personal records. Now we need to take that strength and use it on the court. It’s all between the ears.”
    Watson was a top-flight player for Sonora (class of 1976) and was coached at the JV level by Francis.
    “Rick and I are too good of friends for this game to be a him-and-me type of thing,” says Watson. “Rick is one of the greatest guys around as well as a great coach. But on Tuesday, we’ll both be as competitive as we can in trying to make our kids play to the best of their abilities.
    “I was an assistant to Rick when I got out of college and I learned a lot from him. He was my mentor and has been for a long time. Hopefully, the fans will see a battle on Tuesday, no matter which team wins.
    “Right now, we are rebounding OK and we’re executing our offense fairly well. Our weakness is on the defensive side. Our rotations are not consistent.”
    For Summerville, 6-foot guard Joey Brocchini has been a pleasant surprise to Watson.
    “Joey has been a blue-collar type of player the way he gives us energy and toughness,” said Watson. “And he’s also shooting well from the outside.
    “I’m also seeing some good things from Kyle McLaurin, (guards) Josh Johnson and Logen Foster and (forward) Amaya-Wood. Plus (guard) Patrick Wiebe is giving us some energy off the bench.”
    On Sunday, Watson was reminded of the communities’ excitement for Tuesday’s Sonora-Summerville contest.
    “I was out shopping for a Christmas tree at Don Moore’s place of business,” said Watson. “Don is a Sonora grad, but his son attended Summerville. Don is one of the greatest basketball players ever to come out of Tuolumne County and Rick Francis and I both played softball with Don years ago. So, I’m just examining some Christmas trees and Don comes up to me and the first words out of his mouth are: ‘Yes, I’ll be there Tuesday night!’ ”

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