GALT — Jaime Gonzalez stepped into another role for the Liberty Ranch High boys basketball team in Wednesday’s non-league finale against Center.

The senior, who played point guard in place of Jalen Patterson, did most of his damage in the first 24 minutes of the game. That helped Liberty Ranch (17-1) to a 70-43 win over Center (10-5) at The Hawks Nest on Wednesday.

Gonzalez, who usually plays the No. 2 guard spot, started at point guard for Patterson, who sat out the contest. According to Liberty Ranch coach Josh Williams, Patterson injured his ankle In the third quarter of the Hawks’ 79-54 win over Riverbank, also at The Hawks Nest, on Dec. 28. Williams said that Patterson is “day-to-day” leading to Friday’s Sierra Valley Conference opener at El Dorado. Patterson is the Hawks’ leading scorer, averaging 24.5 points per game.

“If he doesn’t play Friday, I’d like to think he’ll play next week,” Williams said.

During the first half, Gonzalez found many ways of getting the basketball through the net; from the baseline to inside the paint. In addition, he found his shooting groove from behind the arch, as he canned three 3-pointers. He had 22 points at halftime — Liberty Ranch led 38-25 — and finished with 28 points.

“I knew I had to pick it up offensively and do some of the things he normally does,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I had to dominate the ball, be more aggressive, look to score and get my teammates involved more than I usually do. I knew it started with me.”

Williams added, “We put Jaime into Jalen’s role, and we moved (guard Gabriel Nino) to Jamie’s role. With that, they did a really good job.”

Liberty Ranch forward Jayden Baroni, who is the team captain, scored seven of his 16 points in the first half. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Baroni muscled his way into the paint for most of his uncontested baskets in the game. Three times he forced a Center turnover that led to coast-to-coast baskets.

The Hawks broke open a 20-12 game after the first quarter with an 8-0 run to start the second quarter. That included one of Barnoi’s coast-to-coast trips, and Gonzalez scoring eight of his first half points.

Liberty Ranch, which had played half-court defense in recent games, went almost exclusively with the look for most of the contest. But halfway through the third quarter, Center found some momentum in moving the ball inside the paint to trim the Hawks’ lead to 40-32.

“We know they rebound well,” Williams said. “We knew that if they were going to beat us, it was going to be inside.”

Then the Hawks responded by boxing out that kept the Cougars from getting offensive rebounds that would led to more chances at the net. That led to ending the quarter with an expanded 53-36 lead.

“On the defensive end, we knew what they wanted to do, who their guys were and how to play them,” Gonzalez said. “We went over it and we came prepared and ready to go.”

Liberty Ranch officially put the game away in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. Thanks to another run, this time 7-0, which included Baroni scoring some of his seven points as, the Hawks flew to a 60-36 lead.

As the final quarter continued, Williams and Center coach Raymond Gagnon cleared their respective benches to allow reserve players to get time on the court.

“Guys that don’t normally get a lot of playing time were able to step up and play their roles and it was great,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit on the defensive end. I think tonight was a good step forward to build upon.”

Behind Gonzalez and Baroni in scoring for the Hawks were back court players of Isaac Padilla with 13 points, Josh Seiler six and Ahmari Douglas five. Nino had two.

Center forward Elias Bonds had 14 points. Forward Emari White had eight points, and Cougar teammates in center Daniel Andreyev and guard TJ Fox had six each.

After Liberty Ranch plays at El Dorado in Placerville on Friday it will host cross-town rival Galt on Tuesday.

Contact Mike Bush at mikeb@lodinews.com. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.

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