Manteca High won the battle off the court.
Now, the Buffaloes will look to do the same on the familiar floor at Winter Gymnasium.
They’re back in action tonight for the CIF Northern California Division III Regional Championships semifinal round against dangerous third seed Archbishop Riordan of San Francisco. After a first-round bye, No. 2 Manteca (26-6) got to host its NorCal opener Saturday against Albany and won, 59-52.
There was uncertainty of where both contests would take place. CIF requires host schools to play state tournament games at venues large enough to fit spectators from both participating teams. Capacity at Winter Gym is around 700, so Manteca athletic director Bill Slikker got the go-ahead from cross-town rival East Union to hold games at Dalben Center as a Plan B for Saturday’s quarterfinal.
Pete Saco, the retired commissioner of the Sac-Joaquin Section who now helps organize the NorCal regional tournament, instead approved Plan A and again gave Manteca the thumbs up to host tonight.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7.
“We’d rather play at home if we’re able to,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “We made the argument that we didn’t even sell out our game on Saturday and we don’t think a Tuesday night crowd would be much bigger.
“We’re thankful being on our home court,” he added. “We’re comfortable at home, and it’s our fourth playoff game at home.”
And the Buffaloes are 11-1 in the snug confines of Winter Gym. Their only loss there came against Valley Oak League foe Weston Ranch, which beat Manteca a third time this season in the SJS Division III finals. The top-seeded Cougars were knocked off by reigning CIF Open Division champion Bishop O’Dowd (16-14) of Oakland this past Saturday. No. 8 O’Dowd takes on No. 4 Sacred Heart Cathedral (12-16) in the other NorCal Division III semifinal.
Archbishop Riordan held off SJS semifinalist Placer 62-55 in its second-round tilt. The Crusaders have won four in a row to improve to 12-16, but Manteca isn’t taking them lightly because of their record.
Riordan went 3-11 and placed seventh in the highly-competitive West Catholic Athletic League, but many of its losses were close. It was also slowed by injuries to key players throughout the season. Seeded fourth in the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs, the Crusaders toppled No. 1 Burlingame 83-74 in the semifinal round before edging WCAL adversary Sacred Heart Cathedral, also of San Francisco, 65-61 in overtime.
Manteca and Archbishop Riordan have a common opponent in Saint Mary’s of Albany, which the Buffaloes blasted 73-45 in their first game of the season. Riordan beat the Panthers a week later, 44-42. One of the Crusaders’ more notable wins was a 43-40 decision over Carson, which went on to reach the semifinal round of the Nevada Division I state tournament.
Riordan is led by 6-foot-3 guard Eddie Stansberry but can get contributions from many players. Sophomore James Chun, for example, blew up for a game-high 24 points in the CCS title game. Senior Eric Galindo is the program’s record holder for career 3-pointers made.
Manteca, as usual, has a considerable advantage in height with 6-8 Tydus Verhoeven and 6-9 posts Anand Hundal and Nevada-bound Kenny Wooten, but the Crusaders are no slouches with the likes of 6-4 Jason Smith patrolling the paint.
“They’re really athletic, and Stansberry is very good,” Lewis said. “They have a couple of other guys who shoot real well and super athletic guys in the interior. They like to run, they’ll press a little bit and they’ll also sit in a zone. We’ve seen them run about 10 different defenses in a game, so we’ll have to adjust and find openings.”
Archbishop Riordan isn’t completely unfamiliar with the trip to the Central Valley. Last year, the Crusaders came to town to face Sierra in the NorCal quarterfinals and lost, 65-57.
The winners of tonight’s semifinals square off Saturday at American Canyon High. The state championship is on Thursday, March 24 with 4 p.m. tipoff at Sleep Train Arena.
A win for Manteca tonight would mark the first appearance in the NorCal finals for a Manteca Unified school. The Buffaloes’ victory on Saturday is believed to be the program’s first at the NorCal level.
“We’ve played a tough schedule and had a lot of games with good teams,” Lewis said. “All we have to show for it is the championship from the Cosumnes Oaks tournament — we don’t have much hardware. We have a chance to rewrite history, so hopefully we can put ourselves in position to bring home more hardware.”