A loss felt inevitable.
With two minutes left in a game between the top small-school boys basketball teams in the FrontRowPreps.com region, Sonora coach Lloyd Longeway was ready to throw in the towel. No. 2 Argonaut had stared down the mystique of Bud Castle Gymnasium and carved out a 10-point lead.
That’s when a Wildcat with the fiery red hair caught fire.
Junior Austin Patterson scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including 10 in the final two minutes to send the game into overtime. With new life, No. 1 Sonora squeezed out a 70-67 victory and paved the way for a Mother Lode League championship. Patterson finished with 28 points, none more important than his game-tying layup in the final seconds of regulation.
“He put on an amazing finish,” Longeway said. “I thought we were going to lose, but he took over and pushed it into overtime. He really turned it on.”
He’s been “on” the entire season, torching the opposition with a versatile offensive game. He has the speed to beat teams back in transition, the strength to finish at the rim, and a high release that makes his shot almost indefensible.
Check the numbers.
Patterson is averaging more than 23 points per game. He’s scored in double figures in every game this season, topping 30 four times. He’s reeled off six straight games with at least 20 points.
“He’s a beast,” Longeway said following his team’s victory over Amador on Wednesday. With that win — and Argonaut’s stunning loss to Bret Harte — the Wildcats clinched their second consecutive league title.
Patterson shies away from such praise.
As good as he has been this season, individually, Patterson is immersed in the team game. He’s humble and modest, and driven by one cause: Winning.
Sonora is 45-7 in Longeway’s two seasons on the bench and it reached the second round of the CIF State Division IV Tournament last winter. The Wildcats have three straight 20-win seasons and have been the season-long No. 1 team in the FrontRowPreps.com poll.
“Coming into the season, we knew we’d be one of the teams in contention for the league title,” Longeway said. “So we’ve always had those aspirations. Last year, we played in the state tournament and that was awesome. We always wanted to do well in league, but we’re excited for the postseason as well.”
The Wildcats are No. 2 in MaxPreps’ Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV rankings, trailing only Liberty Ranch. As the season shifts toward the playoffs, Patterson understands he may become the focus of opposing coaches, but he also insists Sonora is greater than one player.
“We have a good chance,” he said. “Our point guard (senior Midas Calindas) is really good. He controls everything and gets us where we need to go. We also have a deep bench. There are three of four guys who can give us good minutes.”
Sonora’s confidence is buoyed by a 76-65 win over Vanden at the Mark Gallo Invitation on Dec. 11. In that game, Patterson erupted for 38 points. The Wildcats also followed that victory with triumphs over Gregori, the Central California Athletic League champion, host Central Catholic, a three-time defending section champion.
“It completely boosted our confidence. That was huge for us, because we knew that was a really good team,” Patterson said of the victory over Vanden. “We came into the tournament with everyone thinking that Vanden was going to smack us, but we hit them hard. It was good win for us.”
Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.