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MHS, RC boys facing familiar foes; EU girls get new challenge
Kimball-Manteca boys basketball
Manteca’s Noah Lyons (24) drives from the wing while guarded by Kimball’s Chris Obiajulu in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal on Monday.

The Manteca and Ripon Christian boys basketball teams are already acquainted with their upcoming opponents in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff semifinals.

That’s not the case for East Union’s girls team, which heads to unfamiliar territory to meet an unfamiliar foe.

All three teams are in action tonight, with the winners moving on to the championship round taking place Saturday at Golden 1 Center. The good news for all parties is that their seasons continue regardless of the outcomes tonight. That’s because all SJS semifinalists have booked their spots in the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Regional Championships.

“I want the guys to go out, have fun and enjoy it — play loose,” Manteca coach Jason Hitt said. “We want to be able to defend, rebound and run the way we know how, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Here’s a glance at each of the matchups for local teams:


Division III boys

No. 4 Manteca (20-10) at No. 1 Vanden (17-12)

These two previously tangled in the first round of the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic on Dec. 27. Manteca lost 44-39 but was down by 15 points at halftime and held the Vikings of Fairfield to single digits in each of the final two quarters.

“They were smacking us pretty good in the first half,” Hitt said. “We came back in the second half, but it was too little, too late. The biggest thrill for us was our defense in the second half; we take pride in holding teams.”

Takai Emerson-Hardy led Vanden with 19 points, and Ryan Inderbitzin scored 19 for Manteca. Emerson-Hardy is the Vikings’ star player, and at 6-foot-7 the versatile forward is one of seven Vanden players listed at 6-5 or taller. The Buffaloes counter with 6-8 center Mehtaj Mehrok, but the rest of their post players are 6-2 and shorter.

Tyler Thompson, a 6-5 sophomore guard, fired 31 points and drained three 3s in Vanden’s 84-58 rout of No. 17 Rosemont in the first round. The Vikings trailed No. 8 Center at halftime but inched away for a 73-64 win in the quarterfinals.

Vanden is positioned to claim its ninth overall SJS crown after starting the season on a six-game skid playing against some of the top teams in Northern California, including Valley Oak League champion Weston Ranch.

“Vanden has pretty much been a power in our division over the last five years, and they do well in all sports,” Hitt said. “They struggled early because of the competition, but that’s a talented team that’s used to playing high-caliber competition and they are huge.”

The winner takes on No. 6 Central Catholic or No. 7 Burbank in the final.


Los Banos-East Union girls basketball
East Union's Donnese Payne (14) goes up against Emely Guzman of Los Banos in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III quarterfinal on Monday. - photo by Wayne Thallander
Division III girls

No. 3 East Union (23-3) at No. 2 Lincoln (26-2)

The Lancers are back in the semifinal round for the first time since the 2008-09 season. That team, which went 27-3, ended a 15-year semifinal drought.

It will be a milestone moment for the victor in tonight’s showdown in Placer County, as East Union is looking to make its second title-round appearance (1994) in program history while the Fighting Zebras are within reach of their first.  

This will be East Union’s first encounter with Lincoln under longtime coach Jim Agostini. Their only common opponent this season just so happens to be Manteca, a cross-town rival EU swept in VOL play. Lincoln dispatched the Buffaloes 54-47 in the quarterfinal round Monday.

“We don’t know much about them,” he said. “We did get a chance to watch a couple game tapes. They obviously have a very good record, they’re a league champ and it looks like they play a style of game we also like to play.”

Winners of 19 straight, Lincoln went undefeated in the Foothill Valley League after two early losses against Division II qualifiers Whitney and Del Oro. Junior power forward Katie Leeth anchors the Fighting Zebras, averaging 19.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 3.8 blocks.

East Union is also playing its best basketball late in the season having won eight in a row and 20 of its last 21.

“They present problems with their post player, but they’re an active team that plays full court,” Agostini said. “We’re just going up there trying to play as close to a normal game as possible.”

Top-seeded Vanden and No. 4 Placer, the PVL runner-up, square off in the other semifinal.


Division V boys

No. 11 Bradshaw Christian (11-18) at No. 2 Ripon Christian (20-7)

This may appear to be a mismatch at first glance, but don’t be deceived — the Pride of Sacramento already has RC’s attention.

“You can look at their record and that 11th seed, but they’re better than that,” Knights coach Mark Hofman said. “None of that matters now. They’re much better than that and we know it.”

These two faced off at Central Catholic’s Mark Gallo Invitational in December, and Bradshaw rolled to a 57-43 victory. The Pride earlier took a 57-56 loss to Denair, the top seed of this division which also boasts an early double-digit win over Ripon Christian.

The Knights are a different team now, having won 13 of their last 14.

“We’ve improved in every area, especially defensively,” Hofman said.

The senior backcourt tandem of Ethan Patterson (18.3 ppg) and David Schuhmeier (15.6 ppg) lead Bradshaw Christian. Sophomore Micah Nicholson paced the Pride with 15 points in their early-season win over RC.

Bradshaw placed fifth out of six teams in the competitive Sierra Valley Conference.

“They have three guards that are very dangerous offensively and two big guys who do a good job of setting screens and getting rebounds,” Hofman said. “I think it’s going to be an evenly-matched and good game.”

The winner plays Denair or No. 4 Mariposa. Ripon Christian is going after its 13th SJS title. The Knights are won the Division VI championship in 2020 along with the NorCal regional crown.