Lathrop’s girls basketball team practiced as usual on Wednesday, though under unusual circumstances.
Second-year head coach Dwayne Davis had yet to receive official word of his squad’s postseason status, but he wanted to make sure the Spartans remained sharp just in case. He and his players were hoping to catch the Sac-Joaquin Section’s selection show online Wednesday before practice, but the start of it was delayed.
“We went ahead and started practice,” Davis said. “Then I got a call from our athletic secretary. She told us we were in and the girls let out a big scream. Then they asked, ‘Where’s Calaveras?’ They think that Las Vegas is the edge of the earth.”
The Spartans will find out sure enough.
They’re making the first postseason appearance in school history for girls basketball and were seeded 10th in the Division IV bracket. Their first-round game next Tuesday will be in San Andreas, where No. 3 Calalveras (21-4) awaits.
Lathrop (14-10) finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Valley Oak League, but only three teams are granted playoff berths. It was decided via coin flip won by Central Catholic (17-9), the No. 9 seed in Division IV. Both Central Catholic and Lathrop were likely shoo-ins with at-large bids because of their MaxPreps rankings — the top 12 in each division that do not earn automatic spots generally get in. The only chance for the third team in contention, Kimball (14-13), to advance was by winning the coin flip. The Jaguars are placed in Division II because of their higher enrollment and did not make the cut.
“There’s a reason we played a tougher schedule,” Davis said. “We could have had a softer nonleague schedule to build up some wins, but for my girls if they did what they were supposed to do the rest would take care of itself.
“I’m proud of the girls for sticking with the process and believing in what we’re doing. They realize that hard work does pay off, and it makes me feel good for them.”
Not all was hunky-dory for Manteca area teams in the lower-division brackets.
Also in Division IV girls is Trans-Valley League champion Ripon (19-7), which defeated Lathrop 41-33 in its second pre-league contest. The Indians are seeded 14th and get a tough opening-round draw in No. 3 Venture Academy (22-5) — the Central California Athletic Alliance runner-up to top-seeded Stockton rival Brookside Christian.
“I don’t see why they put us so low,” Ripon coach George Contente said. “I thought there was a heavy emphasis on winning league, and there are people who finished fourth in their league (seeded) ahead of us. How does that happen?
“It’s a little unfair, but we’re going to go out and be ready to play.”
Contente believed he was going to have at least one more home game in his 11th and final season as head coach. There would need to be two upsets — the other being No. 11 Marysville over No. 6 Colfax — for that to happen.
“At least we’re not going that far,” Contente said. Venture Academy is just right up Highway 99 and 15 miles from Ripon High.
First-year Ripon Christian coach Mark Hofman was also puzzled. Just two days after his Knights (18-7) toppled Ripon (22-5) for the Trans-Valley League title, he found out that the Knights are on the road to start the Division V playoffs. Second-place Ripon gets to host in the meantime, though it’s in the larger Division IV bracket.
“We won a league title, and the TVL is supposedly a higher-level league (compared to other Division V),” Hofman said. “I’m not sure how it all works, but it seems like you can make a case for a lot of the teams in our bracket.”
Part of the problem for Ripon Christian is that there are five league champions in Division V, originally an eight-team bracket that swelled 11 teams with at-large qualifiers. Also going against the Knights was their 81-68 nonleague loss to Southern League champion Mariposa. The Grizzlies (21-4) are seeded fourth and will take on No. 5 Ripon Christian next Wednesday.
“They probably looked at head-to-head and Mariposa did win, so I understand that logic,” Hofman said. “I told our players today that they’ve answered every challenge for me so far, and we think we’re better than what we showed that day (at Mariposa).”
MaxPreps rankings and strength of schedule are also factored in. Sacramento Country Day (19-8) is ranked sixth in Division V with a lower strength of schedule rating than Ripon Christian, ranked third, but somehow vaulted all the way up to the second seed.
Ripon welcomes Union Mine (17-10) in the Division IV 8-9 matchup, but the winner heads to heavy favorite Central Catholic.
The fifth-seeded Ripon Christian girls team (14-11) starts on the road against No. 4 Rio Vista in Division V. A win there would likely pit Ripon Christian with No. 1 Capital Christian for a rematch of last year’s Division V finale claimed by the Cougars of Sacramento.