League championships and playoff berths are on the line this week for several area boys and girls basketball teams as the regular season comes to an end.
Automatic bids for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs are awarded to the top three finishers in the Valley Oak League, Trans-Valley League and Western Athletic Conference. Teams that don’t place in the top three can still qualify with an at-large berth if they finish in the top 15 of the MaxPreps Divisions I-IV rankings and top 10 for Divisions V-VI.
The VOL girls and TVL boys titles may come down to cross-town rivalry games later in the week.
On Thursday, Manteca (8-2, 18-6 overall) hosts first-place East Union (9-1, 22-4) for what could be a three-way share of the VOL girls crown. Manteca made it possible by beating Kimball (9-2, 21-6) 51-42 on the road last Thursday, and now the Buffaloes will look for another season split after dropping a 58-55 decision at East Union on Jan. 14.
Manteca must first get past Weston Ranch (2-8, 11-13) tonight. The Cougars have something to play for as the No. 16-ranked team in Division III, and they nearly upset the Buffs 50-48 on Jan. 21. No. 13 Sierra (3-8, 14-12) is also vying for an at-large playoff berth and travels to Weston Ranch on Thursday.
Central Catholic (10-0, 19-7) clinched at least a share of the VOL boys title after knocking off Weston Ranch (8-2, 15-11) for a second time last Friday, 74-72. The Ranch needs some help for a co-title but is more focused on preparing for the SJS Division I bracket. The Cougars have been placed in the toughest division after qualifying for the CIF State Open Division bracket last year.
Manteca (6-4, 13-13) has the inside track to the third and final automatic berth in the VOL and is ranked 10th in Division III. The Buffaloes head to Weston Ranch on Wednesday and East Union (4-6, 13-13) on Friday. Sierra (5-7, 14-11) has a bye on Wednesday and welcomes Weston Ranch on Friday while sitting at No. 11 in the MaxPreps rankings.
East Union remains on the bubble at No. 16 and faces Central Catholic on Wednesday. Winning out could land it the automatic berth if Manteca and Sierra both fall to Weston Ranch this week.
Things are far less settled in the unpredictable TVL boys race led by Ripon Christian (8-2, 19-6), which has no easy task in the lead-up to its anticipated regular-season finale. Before squaring off with second-place Ripon (8-3, 14-13) on Friday, the Knights take on visiting playoff hopeful Riverbank (4-6, 14-11) on Wednesday.
A Riverbank victory would set up a winner-take-all affair between Ripon Christian and three-time defending champion Ripon, which claimed the first meeting, 59-56.
Ripon Christian is the top-ranked Division VI team in Northern California, according to MaxPreps, but would have to step up in competition with an outright TVL title.
Ripon’s girls team (10-1, 19-7) already has its second TVL championship in three years wrapped up and is likely playing for sole possession Thursday at Ripon Christian (6-4, 13-10). RC remains in contention for the third automatic bid but appears to be a shoo-in with a No. 4 ranking in Division VI.
Lathrop’s girls and boys teams both have big games against Los Banos tonight.
On the girls side, Lathrop (7-5 WAC, 10-14 overall) is tied for fourth place with fellow 2019 co-champ Beyer (7-5, 10-16). The Spartans host first-place Los Banos (10-2, 15-11) and closes with another tough match-up Thursday against Johansen (5-7, 14-10). Automatic berths are likely the only way into the playoffs for WAC girls teams, as none of them are ranked in the top 15 of the Division III field.
Lathrop’s boys (9-3, 17-7) missed an opportunity to force a possible three-way share of the WAC championship last Friday when sole leader Mountain House escaped with the 79-77 win. The Spartans would lock up their second straight postseason berth by completing a season sweep of fourth-place Los Banos tonight. They’re ranked 14th in Division III.
The SJS playoffs tip off Feb. 17 for girls and Feb. 18 for boys.