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Manteca hosting familiar opponent in NorCal opener
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Manteca High’s boys basketball team begins its CIF State Division III title defense Wednesday against a familiar opponent, only this time it will be at Winter Gymnasium.

Seeded fifth in the Northern California regional bracket, the Buffaloes (24-6) play host to No. 12 Foothill (20-9) from Palo Cedro. 

Meanwhile, Ripon’s boys team will make the longest trip among the four area squads still going, as the No. 11 Indians (24-6) head to No. 6 seed Corning (29-0). The No. 13 Ripon Christian boys (17-11) are bound for Oakland where they will tangle with No. 4 Head-Royce (18-9) in Division V action. 

Ripon Christian’s girls (14-15) received the toughest draw of the four. They’ll head to East Palo Alto to face top-seeded Eastside College Prep (18-8) — the No. 26th ranked team in California, according to MaxPreps.

Two years ago, Manteca’s season ended in Palo Cedro in the opening round, with Foothill winning, 68-60. 

“It’s their turn to drive four and a half hours now,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. 

Much has happened since their last meeting, and both teams will bring almost entirely different lineups. Manteca standout Tydus Verhoeven is the only player to be part of their 2015 showdown, and he helped the Buffaloes capture NorCal and state championships last season.

Foothill placed third in the Eastern Athletic-Sac River League but went on to upset top-seeded Pleasant Valley 62-58 in overtime in the Northern Section finals. Pleasant Valley of Chico, is seeded 14th for NorCals and had a 15-game winning streak snapped by the Cougars. Carter Smith, who averages a team-high 13.4 points, paced Foothill with 20 points including five 3s.

“They had a little bit more size (two years ago), but it’s the same coach (Bill Elliott) and they play the same way,” Lewis said. “They obviously had to beat a real good team to get to where they are, so we’re not looking past them.”

Manteca played the role of underdog in its last game, which resulted in a heartbreaking 64-57 loss to eventual Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Capital Christian in the semifinals. Capital Christian climbed back from a 19-point first-half deficit and was selected to compete in the Open Division.

The SJS got some love from the seeding committee for NorCals. Division III runner-up Vista del Lago is seeded No. 2, Vanden, which Vista del Lago upset in the quarterfinals, is third and Placer also hosts in the first round from the No. 8 spot. Rio Americano, Manteca’s second-round victim in the section playoffs, drew top-seeded St. Ignatius.

“Our division was really well balanced this year,” Lewis said. “I feel that from top to bottom it was better than it was last year, and I think (the NorCal bracket) shows that.”

While Lewis has a feel for what his first-round opponent brings, Ripon head coach Rod Wright doesn’t have that luxury for his.

Undefeated Corning rolled pass Pierce 54-34 to win the NS Division IV title. The Cardinals, however, needed to come back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to knock off West Valley 43-37 in the semifinals.

“I don’t know much about them,” Wright said. “I can’t get any film on them. I know they’re undefeated, they have three really good players and they play a lot of zone, based on what little we’ve seen.”

Corning is led by juniors Corey Busta (11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds), Noah Zoppi (17.0 points, 5.9 rebounds) and Brendan Hoag (10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds).

The Ripon Christian boys are paired with a Head-Royce squad that struggled offensively in a 42-32 North Coast Section semifinal loss to Branson. RC’s girls team is up against Eastside College Prep, which lost two close games in the Central Coast Section’s rigid Open Division playoffs.