League championships and playoff berths are at stake in the penultimate chapter of the 2015 regular season.
Manteca (4-1, 7-1 overall) visits Oakdale (5-0, 8-0) on Friday with a chance to force a possible three-way share for the Valley Oak League championship, while Ripon (3-0, 5-3) can clinch at least a piece of the Trans-Valley League crown by topping visiting rival Escalon (1-2, 4-4).
If Manteca upsets the Mustangs at The Corral, where the Buffaloes have won just once in the Eric Reis era, Oakdale would have win at Central Catholic in Week 10 for the league to crown three champs. Oakdale is ranked fourth in the Cal-Hi Sports Division III state poll, and Central Catholic is No. 2.
Central Catholic (5-0, 8-0), Oakdale and Manteca have already garnered the VOL’s three automatic postseason bids, but Sierra (2-3), Lathrop (2-3) and Weston Ranch (1-4) are still in the running for at-large berths with 4-4 records. Six-win teams are virtual locks to advance, and few at-large qualifiers can make it with five. That means the VOL could have as many as five representatives in the playoffs.
Sierra just so happens to host Lathrop for homecoming in one of the week’s biggest games. Lathrop has never beaten the Timberwolves or qualified for the playoffs through its first six varsity seasons. Sierra has made postseason appearances in six of the last seven years. The Spartans end the regular season at home against Kimball (1-4, 2-6).
Weston Ranch’s best bet is to win out with road games against dangerous Kimball and Sierra ahead. A 5-5 record may not be enough for the Cougars. Strength of schedule, or total number of opponents’ wins, is used as a tiebreaking criterion in seeding teams and determining qualifiers. Weston Ranch beat all of its nonleague opponents — Edison, Galt and Grace Davis — but they are 5-19 combined. Sierra’s nonleague foes are 12-12, and Lathrop’s are 14-10. Weston Ranch has just one playoff appearance (2005).
Ripon is riding a four-game tear that includes last week’s surprising 49-14 blowout of Modesto Christian in a first-place battle. They’re alone in first but have no easy outs left on their TVL schedule. Escalon is sure to play with urgency as it looks to even its league record. Ripon closes the regular season at Hughson, which has dropped overtime thrillers to Modesto Christian and Hilmar after a 6-0 start.
Ripon Christian (3-2, 6-2) is out of contention for the Southern League title with heartbreaking losses to 8-0 teams Orestimba and Gustine but can lobby for a first-round home game with back-to-back wins. The Knights travel to Mariposa (3-2, 4-3) before wrapping up the regular season at Delhi (2-3, 5-3).