STOCKTON – For the Weston Ranch boys basketball team, the season will finish just as it began – on the road.
The ninth-seeded Cougars will point their team van toward Ceres for the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III tournament on Wednesday. Weston Ranch travels to No. 8 Central Valley, a program buzzing after its first-ever Western Athletic Conference championship.
A potential showdown at top-seeded Christian Brothers awaits the winner in the second round.
The boys’ playoffs get underway tonight with play-in games in six divisions and then continue Wednesday.
“We’re happy over here. We’re excited,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan said. “At some point, you have to beat a good team. We have to beat good teams and it just so happens we have to beat them on the road.
“Looking back, I’m happy we played so many games on the road.”
The Cougars (17-10) are comfortable in their road grays, gym bags looped over their shoulders, hostile crowd breathing down their necks.
This young bunch, bolstered by three juniors and one sophomore, was raised on the road.
Weston Ranch began the season with 13 games away from its home floor, including tournaments in Fresno and Salida, and didn’t host an opponent until Jan. 8, a 70-59 loss to fifth-seeded Manteca.
For the season, the Cougars are 12-8 on the road or at neutral sites, including a down-to-the-wire loss at Sierra, the tournament’s
No. 3 seed.
“You hope that you’ve developed that toughness over the season. I think there’s only one game where we didn’t match the intensity – that Manteca game. I didn’t like the way we came out,” Teevan said, alluding to a 77-62 loss at Winter Gym.
“We lost to Sierra by two at their place. We had a shot to win the game against, in my opinion, the best team in the section.”
Central Valley (22-3) might have something to say about that. The Hawks boast a talented and experienced backcourt with four-year guard Jaron Dickson and Modesto Christian transfer Daevon Brown.
Dickson is the team’s leading scorer and a frontrunner for the WAC MVP. He had 24 points in a victory over Ceres last Friday.
The Hawks have won 15 straight games, a streak that spans nearly two months.
If the names Dickson and Brown sound familiar to VOL fans, they should. The two combined for 30 points in a surprising 60-43 victory over Sierra in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
“I hear they want to play the same way,” Teevan said. “ … But I don’t know that they’ve seen (a team with) our quickness and athleticism.”
Weston Ranch’s path to the postseason has taken some interesting turns in the last few weeks.
Teevan has tinkered with his rotation, inserting guard Tre Simmons into the starting lineup in place of sharpshooter Jazz Swanson.
The move has boosted the confidence of the sophomore Simmons, who has blossomed into a perimeter threat. It also gives Teevan instant offense off the bench with Swanson, the team’s third-leading scorer and one of the area’s best pure shooters.
Swanson had eight 3-pointers in a 79-74 victory over Pleasant Grove at the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic, and during one stretch in the season the senior averaged five 3s per game.
“We’ll need him to shoot like that if we want to beat some of these teams,” Teevan said.
Still, it wasn’t certain which teams Teevan and the Cougars would be preparing for.
Weston Ranch earned the final automatic berth granted to the Valley Oak League, but in the days leading up to Wednesday evening’s NFHS Selection Show, it wasn’t clear where the committee would place the Cougars. Would they be the largest school in Division IV? Or one of the smallest in D3?
“When the brackets were announced, I had five or six people text, ‘Terrible draw.’ I didn’t get that,” Teevan said. “I didn’t understand why. I don’t know who we can’t beat.”
They’ll start with Central Valley, hosting its first-ever playoff game. Both teams own victories over Patterson, which plays Inderkum in tonight’s play-in game.
“My kids are tough. They’re ballers and they’re not scared of the moment,” Teevan said. “I’m fully confident they’ll be ready for it.
“I think we can beat anybody, but I also think we can lose to anybody. We have to be really paranoid that anybody can take our season from us.”