Brett Lewis anticipated that the margin of defeat from his Manteca High boys basketball team’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title-round appearance against Valley Oak League adversary Weston Ranch last Friday would negatively impact the Buffaloes’ seeding for the CIF State Northern California Regional Championships.
He was wrong.
Weston Ranch (27-4), not surprisingly, is the No. 1 seed in Division III with Hayward-based powerhouse Moreau Catholic, the North Coast Section’s D-III champ, earning an invitation to the CIF Open Division bracket. Manteca is slotted in the No. 2 spot despite its 69-57 loss to Weston Ranch at Sleep Train Arena. Their league games were far more competitive, with Weston Ranch sneaking away in both of them by a combined nine-point margin.
Ripon Christian’s girls team (15-12), meanwhile, is No. 10 in the Division V and heads to No. 7 Mt. Shasta (25-4).
“It would have been nice, especially for NorCal seedings, to lose by five rather than whatever it was tonight,” Lewis said following Friday’s loss. “We can’t change that. We tried fouling at the end, which made the deficit a little (larger), but it’s a little frustrating.”
What started out as a nip-and-tuck barnburner ended with Weston Ranch in full control in the third bout between VOL heavyweights. Manteca had a chance to break it open early in the second quarter with a 25-18 lead powered by an 11-0 run, but the Cougars tied it by halftime, 33-33, and took over from there.
They’ll both get first-round byes when NorCal play tips off Wednesday and are idle until Saturday. Weston Ranch awaits the winner of No. 8 Bishop O’Dowd (14-14) of Oakland and No. 9 Vista del Lago (21-9) of Folsom. Manteca gets No. 7 Albany (24-6) or No. 10 Shasta (15-11) of Redding.
Weston Ranch is No. 3 and Manteca No. 6 in the latest (Feb. 29) Cal-Hi Sports state Division III rankings. Moreau Catholic — seeded third in the Open Division — is ranked No. 1, with SoCal Division III Regional top seed Ayala (30-3) of Chino Hills sitting at No. 2 NorCalPreps has Weston Ranch ranked ninth overall and Manteca 14th overall in Northern California.
The Cougars have certainly done enough to earn their top seed for NorCals. On top of running the table in the tough VOL and winning their first-ever section title, they built an impressive resume in December which includes two wins over Oakland Section champion McClymonds, another two over SoCal Open No. 8 seed Immanuel of Reedley and one against NorCal Open No. 8 Salesian of Richmond.
“There’s three phases to the dream: first phase is VOL championship, second is section, third is state,” Weston Ranch senior guard D’Angelo Finley said. “We have two-thirds of the dream, and it’s time to go chase that third part.”
Also of note is SJS Division IV champion Central Catholic (25-5), the third-place team out of the VOL which is seeded second for NorCal Division IV. Four of the Raiders’ five losses were hard-earned wins for both Weston Ranch and Manteca in league.
“The VOL is tough, man,” Lewis said after his team’s section semifinal win over Vista del Lago. “Our sixth-, fifth- and fourth-place teams could have easily won most of the leagues around us. It’s a testament to the coaches, the kids — it’s a fun league to play in. You’re sure battle-tested, and hopefully we’re rewarded for it for NorCals this year.”