SJS playoffs first round
Wednesday, Feb. 21
(10) Manteca at (7) Golden Valley
(12) Marysville at (5) Weston Ranch
(10) Calaveras at (7) Ripon
(2) Ripon Christian bye
All games start at 7 p.m.
Ripon Christian owns the most Sac-Joaquin Section boys basketball titles among area schools with nine but hasn’t won one since 1996.
The Knights have lost three final-round contests since, the last appearance coming in 2010. Head coach Mark Hofman, who was part of RC’s 1988 Division V state championship team, has to like his team’s chances to end the drought.
Thanks to its small enrollment, Ripon Christian (16-9) will compete in Division VI for the first time and is the No. 2 seed behind Sacramento Adventist (23-4). The SJS released brackets for all six divisions on Thursday.
“It’s a new division for us, and we’re not familiar with a lot of the Division VI teams,” Hofman said. “We’re playing well, and we’ve played some of the top teams in other brackets. We had a tough schedule, so hopefully that will help us.”
Cross-town rival and Trans-Valley League champion Ripon (21-6) is seeded seventh in Division IV, where Valley Oak League runner-up Weston Ranch (18-9) sits at No. 5. Manteca (12-15) narrowly earned the third and final automatic berth in the in VOL and is 10th in Division III.
Ripon Christian finished in a three-way tie for second in the TVL but won five out of its last six . The lone defeat came against Ripon, 56-55, after blowing a double-digit lead.
The top three seeds in Division VI get first-round byes, and the Knights await the winner of the Nos. 7-10 matchup between Forsthill (16-11) and Valley Christian (13-10) next Wednesday. They’ll need to win just two games to get to the final, which takes place March 2 and 3 at the University of the Pacific. Hofman and his players attended the Pacific men’s basketball home game against Gonzaga last week.
“We were not even thinking about that being there,” Hofman said. “But at least they’ve seen the gym.”
Not all area coaches were as pleased as Hofman with their spot in the playoffs.
Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan would have preferred his team be placed in Division III, where it won a section title two years ago. But the school’s enrollment and team’s second-place finish in the VOL allowed it to slip down a division.
Weston Ranch tips off postseason play Wednesday against No. 12 Marysville (11-13).
“I don’t think there’s a huge difference between the teams in Divisions III and IV in terms of level of play, but if we could we’d play in Division I,” Teevan said. “You can’t control who you play.
“There is a lot of balance in the section this year, and it’s kind of about who is playing well at the right time. We’ve proven to be a team that has played well in the playoffs when we’ve made it there.”
The Cougars are certainly a squad to watch in Division IV. Now in his sixth year at the Ranch, Teevan has led them to three Division III title games and once as a No. 9 seed in 2015. They defeated league rival Manteca for the 2016 banner.
Ripon hoped for a better seed in Division IV after running the table in the TVL, but the inclusion of Weston Ranch and Placer (20-7) — which play in more competitive leagues — bumped the Indians down a few spots. They’ll take on 10th-seeded Calaveras (19-7) and look to extend their 16-game winning streak.
“We figured we’d be about 5 or 6 but it didn’t work out that way,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said. “The last time we were a 7 we ended up playing at Sleep Train Arena against Modesto Christian (in 2012), so it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It’s going to be an interesting trial all the way through.”
Sonora (23-1) is the top seed of the loaded Division IV bracket, while Liberty Ranch (23-4) is at No. 2.
Manteca may be overlooked in Division III because of its record, but it opened the season without three starters who were playing for the Buffaloes’ section championship football team and took on some top-caliber teams.
The Buffs travel to Merced to meet No. 7 Golden Valley (18-9). VOL champion Central Catholic (25-2) opens with a bye and is the heavy favorite.
“We’re not crazy surprised with where we’re at,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “I think strength of schedule helped us. We’ve played some really good teams.