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Four MUSD schools qualify for SJS playoffs
Ripon, RC have favorable matchups in Divisions IV-V
Daiveon Leverett and the Weston Ranch Cougars were able to retain a top-four spot in the SJS Division III bracket with their win over rival Sierra last week. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca High squeaked into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys basketball playoffs as the 16th and final seed, joining three fellow Manteca Unified schools in the bracket.

The Buffaloes’ reward is a first-round meeting with mighty Modesto Christian (24-3) in nearby Salida next Wednesday.

The section released its postseason brackets Wednesday, and six out of the seven Manteca-area boys teams qualified.

Manteca (14-12) snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Oakdale in its Valley Oak League finale this past Tuesday, and the Buffs also needed Christian Brothers to lose to Bella Vista to sneak in.

Modesto Christian, No. 7 on the MaxPreps Division III state rankings, features two former standouts from Manteca Unified schools — senior guard Zerrion Payton (Weston Ranch), and junior guard Tyras Rattler (East Union).

The Crusaders leapfrogged four teams to get to the top of the Division III bracket. In the section’s most recent postseason playoff ratings, released Feb. 4, they were at No. 5 with Sierra at 1 and Weston Ranch at 3. Sierra’s loss to Weston Ranch last Friday forced a two-way title share between the Valley Oak League rivals and may have helped influence the section’s decision to place Modesto Christian at No. 1.

Sierra (23-4) probably doesn’t mind being the second seed. With MC on the other end of the bracket, the Timberwolves’ get a cleaner road to a second straight section finals appearance at Sleep Train Arena.

First things first. They are paired with No. 15 Ceres (14-12), a team the T’Wolves already drubbed 60-38 early in nonleague action. They’ll probably get battle-tested and seventh-seeded Placer in the quarterfinals.

Weston Ranch (19-8) is at No. 4, setting up a possible rematch with MC in the semifinals. They previously faced off on Feb. 2, with the Cougars losing, 70-59. But Weston Ranch has been on fire since. It opens with No. 13 River Valley (16-11) of Yuba City.

East Union (18-8) is also playing well and is a dangerous team in the Division-III bracket. The Lancers were tagged with the No. 14 seed and are heading to Orangevale to Casa Roble (21-6).

Ripon (11-16) is looking to make another surprise run in the Division IV after advancing to the championship round as the seventh seed last year. This time, however, it doesn’t get to host in the first round. It heads to Sacramento to tangle with Sierra Delta League champ Encina Prep (19-7), which appears to be a favorable matchup for the 10th-seeded Indians.

Second-seeded Summerville (21-3), another beatable team, looms in the quarterfinals. The top dog is Colfax (22-5), a heavy favorite in this tournament.

Ripon Christian (22-4) is third in Division V, where the Knights are semifinal regulars. Standing in the way of their 10th section banner are No. 1 Central Catholic (24-3) and No. 2 Capital Christian (21-4) — last year’s finalists. Capital, the defending champ, has shown chinks in its armor of late having lost its final two Golden Empire League contests to teams it blew out the first time around.

The top four teams — No. 4 being Stockton’s Brookside Christian (25-1) — have first-round byes in this 12-team field. Ripon Christian awaits the winner of No. 6 Elliot Christian (22-5) and No. 11 Delta Charter (16-7).

Semifinalists of the Divisions I-V brackets earn berths to the California Interscholastic Federation Regional Championships. The section finals take place March 1-2 at Sleep Train Arena.