Strength of schedule favored Manteca and Ripon Christian, the third-place teams in their respective leagues.
That was not the case for Ripon, which gets a low seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs despite earning a piece of a three-way share of the Trans-Valley League championship. Area coaches had mixed reactions Saturday night after the section released the postseason brackets. The playoffs begin on Thursday.
Count Manteca’s Eric Reis among the elated. In the weeks leading up to Selection Saturday, there was uncertainty over where his Buffaloes and cross-town rival East Union would land in the enrollment-based divisions.
Last year, Manteca captured the Division IV banner — the program’s fifth — but Reis has expressed his preference to compete in the tougher, 16-team D-III bracket. The Buffaloes would also like another crack at Oakdale (9-1) after the Mustangs dispatched them earlier this season on their way to an outright claim for the Valley Oak League throne. Oakdale’s title run was completed Friday with a wild 27-21 comeback win over Central Catholic, seeded third in Division II.
“We’re a D-III school, our enrollment is D-III and we’re prepared to play in D-III,” Reis said. “We’re not backing down from the challenge.”
As expected, Oakdale was awarded the No. 1 seed in Division III. They’re the defending champion in the bracket and also claimed the CIF State Division III-A title last season.
Manteca (8-2) is seeded second over two league champions in No. 3 Christian Brothers (Capital Athletic League, 8-2) and No. 4 Patterson (Western Athletic Conference, 9-1). The Buffaloes’ 2017 resume is marred by three-score losses to Oakdale and Central Catholic but opened the season with thrilling wins over San Jose powerhouse Valley Christian and Christian Brothers. Rematches with CB and Oakdale loom in the semifinal and final rounds, but Manteca is focused on its next opponent — No. 15 Rio Americano (6-4) of Sacramento.
“For us, it feels like an honor,” Reis said of receiving the No. 2 seed. “It shows the selection committee had respect for what we did. We scheduled way up for a reason, to get ready for the playoffs. We’ve obviously lost two tough games but we feel validated for scheduling the way we did.”
East Union coach Willie Herrera didn’t quibble over his team’s position in Division III. The Lancers (7-3), coming off a 46-17 loss to Manteca, are the No. 13 seed and heading to Patterson. Herrera likes the shorter trip after venturing to Fair Oaks to face Del Campo last year.
“Del Campo wasn’t too far but far enough to take our guys out of their comfort zone because they hadn’t experienced that before,” Herrera said. “When it’s closer it’s easier for families to follow along and for the students to be part of that playoff environment. Aside from all that we’re excited to be in the playoffs again. It would have been nice to be a higher seed but I don’t care as long as we’re in.”
Trey Ozenbaugh and Ripon Christian are also taking the happy-to-be-here approach after missing the postseason a year ago with a 2-8 finish. The Knights (6-4) have a few other reasons to be ecstatic after ending their third-place finish in the Southern League with a surprising 10-6 loss to Delhi, which hurt their chances of getting the top seed in Division VII.
The setback didn’t cause Ripon Christian to slip too far; it still gets a first-round bye in the six-team tournament as the No 2 seed behind Rio Vista (7-3).
“We’re pleased with where we wound up,” Ozenbaugh said. “I think it was based on strength of schedule, but coming off (Friday) night we didn’t deserve the No. 1 seed. It was kind of a wake-up call for us and the kids are rejuvenated.”
Ripon Christian can thank Stone Ridge Christian (9-1) for its 24-14 win over previously-undefeated Big Valley Christian (9-1) in the battle for the Central California Athletic Alliance throne. It weakened a case for Big Valley to get a bye, and the seeding committee had to consider Ripon Christian’s crushing 35-6 defeat of Stone Ridge earlier in the season. They’re lined up for a possible rematch in the semifinals, as RC awaits the winner of No. 3 Stone Ridge and No. 6 Brookside Christian.
Playing against schools closer to its enrollment, Ripon Christian has a legitimate chance at winning its first section title. In years past, Division VII was limited to teams from the CCAA and Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League, forcing the Knights to compete against schools at least twice their size.
“It’s a good fit for us,” Ozenbaugh said. “We’re excited about it. There are still some quality schools in Division VII, and we certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Ripon (7-3) feels slighted for its No. 7 seed in the loaded Division V bracket, and understandably so. Fellow playoff qualifiers out of the TVL received higher seeds in Division VI, and the Indians are the lowest-seeded league champion in the smaller divisions.
Ripon has a quality win over Division VI No. 2 seed Escalon, and two of its losses were to one of the best Northern Section teams in Sutter and SJS Division V top seed Sonora. Ripon opens playoff action at Calaveras (9-1), the Mother Lode League runner-up with its lone loss coming against Sonora.
Other notables in this intriguing small-schools bracket: third-seeded Capital Christian (7-3), the defending champion with impressive athletes; undefeated SL champion Orestimba at No. 4; and tradition-rich Pioneer Valley League rivals Colfax and Bear River seeded fifth and sixth, respectively.
“If we’re going to win the whole thing we are going to have to beat some good teams on the list anyway,” Ripon coach Chris Musseman said. “Going to Calaveras is a great opportunity for our kids and a chance to earn a little respect from the section office.”