Weston Ranch claimed the Valley Oak League championship outright in 2011. Sierra followed with one of its own in 2012.
This year, they split the crown 50-50. Perhaps they can settle the score and continue their heated rivalry at Sleep Train Arena on March 1.
Much has to go right for both teams to make it happen in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III boys basketball playoffs. Second-seeded Sierra (23-4) begins its quest for back-to-back final-round appearances Wednesday against a familiar foe, while No. 4 Weston Ranch (19-8) hosts an unfamiliar opponent.
Fellow Manteca Unified teams East Union (18-8) and Manteca (14-12) — seeded 14th and 16th, respectively — will need to score big upsets on the road to advance. Ripon (11-16) squares off with Encina in Division IV, and Ripon Christian (22-4) gets a first-round bye in Division V.
Ceres (14-12) will look to avenge a 60-38 nonleague loss to Sierra. The Bulldogs placed third in the Western Athletic Conference and ruined sixth-seeded Patterson’s bid for a co-championship with a 69-64 win. They are led by post Jimbo Pernetti, wing Caden Johnson and guards Angel Garcia and Abel Reyes.
Sierra has won 17 of its last 18 games but had its string of 16 straight snapped by Weston Ranch last week.
Weston Ranch greets No. 13 River Valley (16-11) of Yuba City. The Falcons are runners-up in the Tri-County Conference and earned an upset win over champion Inderkum, the 10th-seeded squad in Division III. River Valley relies on scoring balance with 6-foot-3 wing Stuart Bradley leading the way.
East Union faces a tall order in third-seeded Casa Roble (21-6) up in Orangevale. The Rams are anchored by 6-foot-10 senior standout Eric Stuteville and his younger brother Mason, who stands at 6-9. The elder Stuteville is bound for Sacramento State. Guard Jess Baucum is the main perimeter marksman for the Capital Valley Conference runner-up.
East Union started the season 11-0 and ended the regular season strong after an otherwise up-and-down run through the VOL.
Manteca has the toughest first-round draw among area teams. The Buffaloes will make the short trip down to Salida to face top-seeded Modesto Christian (24-3), a loaded squad that has fared well against some of the state’s best.
The Crusaders are led by Pacific-bound standouts Raymond Bowles and T.J. Wallace, a transfer from Stockton’s McNair High. Guards Zerrion Payton and Tyras Rattler — formerly of Weston Ranch and East Union, respectively — give them speed and scoring ability. Christian Ellis is one of the top freshman guards in Northern California. Then there’s 6-7 LeAndro Amador and 6-6 Anthony Townes, both sophomore posts.
Seventh-seeded Encina Prep (19-7) of Sacramento rolled to the Sierra Delta League title but did not fare well against stiffer competition in nonleague play.
Ripon is set up nicely to make another Cinderella run to Sleep Train Arena, but it is not far removed from a four-game losing streak that included a curious defeat against Hughson in the Trans-Valley League. During that same stretch, though, the Indians were competitive in losses to ninth-seeded Escalon, No. 3 Riverbank and powerhouse Modesto Christian, the top squad in the section’s Division III bracket.
The Indians hope that their strong schedule has them prepared for athletic Encina, which is spearheaded by 6-4 post Datwon Bryant.
Ripon Christian awaits the winner of No. 6 Elliot Christian (22-5) and No. 11 Delta Charter (16-7).
Elliot Christian of Lodi placed second in the Central California Athletic Association and has a prolific scoring guard in Adam Gotelli (25.9 ppg). Tracy’s Delta Charter captured the Mountain Valley League championship behind 6-5 forward Joseph Peebles (19.7 ppg).
Ripon Christian would be a big favorite against either team. The Knights previously downed Elliot 85-59 early in their preleague schedule.