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Playoff spots on the line
Sierras Devin Nunez passes the ball off from under the hoop in the final seconds of the first half of last Fridays crosstown contest at East Union. - photo by HIME ROMERO

At this point last year and the 23 before that, coaches were busy crunching numbers to see where their teams could potentially land in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Those calculators are collecting dust these days.

That’s because the SJS did away with its often-disputed postseason power ratings system and came up with a much more simplified way of determining qualifiers: place among the top three in your league and you’re in. 

The Sierra boys (11-0, 19-4) have made things even simpler for themselves having already wrapped up their third straight Valley Oak League championship with three regular-season games remaining. There is still something for them to play for, however, such as a coveted top-four seed in the SJS Division III bracket.

The Timberwolves host Manteca on Wednesday and go on the road to face Weston Ranch and Lathrop. Those are three teams battling it out for the remaining two berths.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said after clinching the outright title last Friday at East Union. “To get up for every game as long as we have is not easy to do, so you have to give our guys credit. But we’re not finished, we want to position ourselves for the playoffs and try get as high of a seed as we can.”

Lathrop (7-4, 14-9) is currently in a second-place tie with Manteca (7-4, 16-8) but owns the head-to-head tiebreaker by having swept the Buffaloes. The Spartans are in the less-competitive Division IV pool and could make a nice run should they qualify.

Manteca completed its season sweep of Weston Ranch last week. Of the bubble teams, the Buffaloes have the most favorable end to league with East Union and Oakdale visiting after the Sierra game. Weston Ranch (6-5, 10-13) is still very much alive with its head-to-head advantage over Lathrop. 

The VOL girls championship will likely be decided next Tuesday, Feb. 18, the final night of the regular season. That’s when Weston Ranch (9-1, 16-6) heads to Kimball with revenge in mind after previously getting trounced by the Jaguars, 55-35.

That leaves Sonora, East Union (5-5, 14-8) and Manteca (4-6, 7-16) to duke it out for the third playoff berth. East Union will definitely have to earn the spot with three rivalry games ahead this week. 

Tonight, the Lancers hope to atone for their previous upset loss to Sierra, which ended a 14-game losing streak to EU on Jan. 10. East Union then takes on Manteca onThursday, travels to Weston Ranch Saturday and hits the road again for the VOL finale in Sonora. The Lancers trail Sonora by a game but did beat the Wildcats in their first showdown.

For some, like the Trans-Valley League boys and girls, a fourth team advances. The nine leagues with the highest postseason winning percentage over the last three years get the extra berth. 

That means the Ripon boys squad (4-5, 6-17), despite a down year, stands a very good chance of making the Division IV cut for a fifth straight season. The Indians face small-school powerhouse Modesto Christian tonight but end the regular-season with winnable games against Hilmar and Orestimba — two teams with one combined TVL win.

Ripon’s hard-luck girls contingent (3-6, 7-15) are on the outside looking in. The Lady Indians can qualify by winning out, but that would require a major upset tonight against Modesto Christian.

The Ripon Christian boys (9-2, 17-5) are virtually locked in as the No. 2 seed out of the Southern League with a sweep third-place Turlock Christian. Mariposa is well on its way to ending RC’s three-year reign as the conference champ.

Ripon Christian’s girls (11-0, 18-3) have claimed sole possession of the SL title and are likely to be seeded in the top four in Division V.