By KEVIN SAULS
Sonora High School came up big at a big time, posting a 54-33 boys' basketball victory over Manteca on Friday night at Bud Castle Gym.
Not only was it Winter Homecoming for the Wildcats, it was pretty much put-up-or-shut-up time concerning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. The Wildcats are No. 13 in the power ratings and need to stay in the top 16 to qualify for the 19th straight year.
"It was do-or-die for the playoffs," coach Rick Francis said.
The Wildcats (12-11, 6-4 Valley Oak League) snapped a two-game losing streak behind 14 points by junior guard-forward Zach Dyer, and 13 points and eight rebounds by center Tom McDonnell.
Dyer scored nine of his points on three 3-pointers in the last 2:38 of the third quarter as Sonora rolled up a 40-22 lead over the Buffaloes (6-14, 2-8).
Sonora welcomed senior forward Rob Smittle back to the lineup after a bout with mononucleosis that had kept him out more than two months. He scored the Wildcats' first two points on a sweep jumper from the left corner, and went on to finish with six points and four rebounds in limited playing time.
"It felt great to be back," Smittle said with a smile after the game.
"What a difference," Francis said.
All 13 Wildcats played and 11 of them scored.
"Everyone played well and we got back to that team game unselfish play and great defense," Francis said.
Senior point guard Rob Hoyt dished six assists for Sonora, which now gears for the last two games of the regular season against the two best teams in the VOL East Union of Manteca (18-5, 10-0) Wednesday at home, and Oakdale (18-6, 8-2) Friday on the road. East Union clinched a tie for the championship three nights ago with a 53-51 win at Oakdale.
"East Union and Oakdale had better not take us lightly, because we'll be ready to play," Francis said.