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Tough matchups ahead for MHS, WR in return to semifinals
BBSK--SJS Division III semifinals ADV pic 1
Vista del Lago standout guard Luke Avdalovic ascends toward the hoop in what was the Capital Athletic League championship game against El Camino. - photo by Photo courtesy of GOLD COUNTRY MEDIA

The Manteca and Weston Ranch boys basketball teams are back in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals, only this time they aren’t facing each other.

For a third go-around to take place, they’ll first have to get past two battle-hardened squads Wednesday at Galt High. Top-seeded Weston Ranch (25-4), making its third semifinal appearance under fourth-year coach Chris Teevan, squares off with No. 4 Placer (26-3) starting at 6 p.m. No. 3 Manteca (24-5) will then tangle with dangerous No. 7 seed Vista del Lago (21-8) at 7:30.

 Last year, Weston Ranch was swept by Manteca in Valley Oak League play but got its revenge in the postseason, prevailing in a surprising 61-41 blowout as the No. 9 seed. The Cougars were then beaten by another Manteca Unified rival, Sierra, 67-51 in the championship round.

Manteca would love to turn the tables on Weston Ranch, which went undefeated in the VOL, but the Buffaloes aren’t looking past their next foe. The Buffaloes are coming off a 68-38 dismantling of No. 6 Lincoln.

“Last year we barely snuck by our first two games (in the playoffs), but this year I feel like our experience has been huge,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “We’ve been there already, so it’s not too overwhelming and we feel like we’re playing some of our best basketball right now. We’re confident, but we know that Vista beat two very good teams to get there.”

Though junior heavy, the Eagles of Folsom have no shortage of big-game experience. They’ve won three in a row, starting with their title-clinching win over El Camino in the Capital Athletic League finale. Vista del Lago went on to hold off reigning section champion and No. 10 seed Sierra 61-60 before stunning No. 2 Capital Christian 64-62 with a half-court buzzer-beater from Will Fitzpatrick. In the Sierra game, it was Luke Avdalovic who drilled a long-range 3-pointer in the final seconds to help seal the win for Vista. The 6-foot-2 junior guards are the Eagles’ leading scorers for the season.

And for the first time this postseason, Manteca encounters a team that can match up with its own size. Thomas Reinking, a 6-foot-9 center, is complemented by Terry Moody (6-7), Grant Bellis (6-5) and Chris Fairchild (6-5) in the post. Manteca counters with Anand Hundal and Nevada-bound Kenny Wooten, both 6-9, and 6-8 guard/forward Tydus Verhoeven.

“Vista del Lago is a team that does all the little things to win,” Lewis said. “They’ve beaten two very quality teams, and we don’t want to be the next team on that list.”

Placer’s season résumé includes a 69-63 nonleague victory over Vista del Lago, and it’s part of an impressive 18-game streak that has the Hillmen on the precipice of a new program record for most wins in a single season. Their last defeat came on Dec. 19 in the Rocklin Tournament championship where they lost 68-67 to Central Catholic, the No. 1 seed in Division IV. Central Catholic placed third in the competitive VOL but had chances to win its four contests with Weston Ranch and Manteca.

Placer had to come from behind to edge both No. 13 Rio Linda and No. 5 Inderkum by a combined four points to reach the semifinals.

 “They’re a big, physical team,” Teevan said. “Every team still playing this time of year usually has those characteristics. They are really a lot like last year’s Sierra team — balanced with bigs and guards who do multiple things well.”

Weston Ranch’s 6-10 Anthony Booker will go toe to toe with Jeremy Lillis, a 6-8 junior, but 6-5 senior Xavier Lovelace erupted for 26 points against Inderkum. Giovanni Roberts has also been key for the Hillmen, as he scored 19 points and buried two of his five 3s in the final 40 seconds of their dramatic 61-60 win over Rio Linda. 

Weston Ranch clobbered Cordova 75-39 in its first-round contest but had trouble putting away a hot-shooting El Camino team in a 73-59 win. Teevan expects Placer to give his Cougars problems as well.

“I think the team that have the best chance to beat us and the teams that have beaten us are either better physically and athletically, or they can shoot the heck out of the ball — and El Camino can definitely shoot the heck out of the ball,” Teevan said. “With Placer we’re going to have to account for everything.”

The Division III final is scheduled for a 9’clock start Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.