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Take it to the ‘BANK

Lathrop boys at No. 3 Riverbank; RC off to Auburn

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Take it to the ‘BANK

Lathrop High’s Eric Spencer looks for a teammate while in midair in front of Mariposa defender Jadin Battles during Wednesday’s Division IV playoff opener.


POSTED February 27, 2014 11:56 p.m.

No stranger to postseason success, Ripon Christian is a win away from advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinals for a fifth consecutive season while clinching another berth to the CIF State Regional Championships.

Lathrop, on the other hand, looks to extend its second playoff run two days after earning the program’s first-ever postseason victory.

Neither of the area’s two remaining boys squads will have it easy tonight as both hit the road for their quarterfinal contests.

Fifth-seeded Ripon Christian (22-5) challenges No. 4 Forest Lake Christian (24-3) in Auburn, while Lathrop (17-10) — the No. 6 team in Division IV — heads to
No. 3 Riverbank (22-3).

It’s uncharted territory for the Spartans of Lathrop, who are in just their fifth year at the varsity level. After a bout with stage fright early on, they vanquished Southern League champion Mariposa 52-37 in Wednesday’s opening round. It was the school’s first home playoff game for basketball, and with a large home crowd cheering them on they were understandably tight for the first few minutes.

The score was tied at 3-3 through five minutes until T.J. Conley started a 16-0 run with a put-back. Lathrop weathered a few shaky moments in the second half to hold on for the win.

“We came out nervous to start, without a doubt,” Lathrop coach Nathan McGrath said. “That was a stressful 15-point win.”

McGrath knows Lathrop can ill afford any letdowns against a relentless Riverbank team that plays full throttle from opening tip to final horn. The Trans-Valley League runner-up is anchored by three seniors, chiefly four-year starter Rolaun Dunham.

The Whitman College-bound senior is the Bruins’ “big man” at 6-foot-2, as he spearheads a rotation of scrappy guards and wings. He averaged 18.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in the regular season but is not 100 percent after injury an ankle two weeks. Chris Porter III (13.2 ppg) and Reilly Nabors (11.8 ppg) are their other two main scorers, and line Dunham they are accurate 3-point shooters.

“I’ve seen a little bit of them,” McGrath said. “I know they’re athletic, they like to run and they have a stud in Dunham. I think their style fits our style, unfortunately our style fits their style, too.”

And unfortunately for Lathrop, it has its own ailments to deal with. Forward Isaiah Ellis (9.5 points, 3.9 rebounds) rolled an ankle after scoring on a layup in the second quarter Wednesday. McGrath said he is highly doubtful for tonight’s contest. It’s a big blow for the Spartans, who were going to rely on the stout 6-2 Ellis to match up defensively on Dunham.

Also worth monitoring, point guard Nilo Yuson (11.5 pints, 5.5 assists, 3.3 steals) played with a 103-degree fever Wednesday, though he is expected to be in the starting lineup again at Riverbank.

“It’s going to hurt that Isaiah is out; he’s a big, athletic kid who can get up and down (the court) and we’re not real deep,” McGrath said. “Other guys are going to have to step up and play some good basketball.”

He and the Spartans may be shorthanded but aren’t in confidence. They are in the middle of their best stretch of the season having won six of seven. The loss was a 69-67 loss at Kimball, but that was followed by a thrilling 66-62 overtime win over Valley Oak League champion Sierra in the regular-season finale. The Sierra win clinched Lathrop’s playoff spot.

“There’s no reason we can’t play with Riverbank,” McGrath said. “When we’re playing well there’s not a team in Division IV that we can’t beat, in my opinion. We have enough athletes and enough kids to run with anybody. We’ll see what happens.”

The winner meets No. 2 Natomas or No. 7 Mesa Verde in the Final Four at Tokay High.

Ripon Christian has to get past Forest Lake Christian to continue its string of semifinal appearances. The Falcons appeared to be on their way to running the table in the Central Valley California League until second-place Victory Christian handed them a 92-76 defeat two weeks ago. Victory is the top-seeded team in the Division VI bracket.

A pair of 5-11 senior guards lead the way for Forest Lake — Chase Augustino averages 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.9 steals, while Luke Jordan checks in with 16.6 points per game. Christian Dethlefs, a 6-5 junior, registers 14.9 points, 6.6 boards and 1.7 blocks a night.

The winner here is rewarded with a likely matchup against top-seeded Capital Christian, widely regarded to be the best in the SJS, next Wednesday at Galt High.

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