MODESTO -- This being the digital age, it should be no surprise that much of the trash-talking that used to be a huge part of basketball at every level has been replaced somewhat by a modern equivalent.
Even before Patterson High was pushed to defeat Ceres 68-63 on Friday, there was some good-natured smartphone-based give-and-take between Patterson and Central Catholic players.
Those two teams meet in Patterson at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for the first of two games that will determine the Western Athletic Conference champion.
"I play AAU with some of those guys and we send texts back and forth," said Tigers' senior guard Keegan Sanchez. "I've already texted them to make sure to bring their crowd because ours is already here."
Patterson, ranked No. 7 in The Bee's Top 10, comes in at 15-4 overall and 4-0 in the WAC and has yet to lose to a team within the Stanislaus District. Central Catholic, ranked No. 3, is 3-0 in league and 16-2 overall, including a 56-47 loss to No. 2 Sierra in the finals of the Columbia Tournament.
Central Catholic's inside game comes at you in waves. It starts with Colgate-bound 6-foot, 9-inch center John Fenton averaging 18.6 points and 17.8 rebounds per game, and then you add 6-5 junior Jonathan Boddie (11.6 points, 8.3 rebounds) and 6-6 senior Jake Bland (8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.)
Patterson can't come close to matching that height. The Tigers' best inside player is 6-4 Jordan Levu (10.6 points, 13.5 rebounds), who will have to use every bit of his strength, quickness and leaping ability to keep Central from dominating the boards.
But Patterson will have the advantage on the outside with the guard combo of Sanchez (12.9 points, 5.2 assists,) and Cariaun Williams (10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds.)
Sanchez ran the point for Patterson as a junior while Williams manned a wing last year as a sophomore. This year those roles have been reversed, which serves to make them interchangeable.
Central's backcourt of Donovin Townsend and Nate Loya gets stronger with each game as both continue to recover from the Raiders' extended football season.
The Tigers have no shortage of players willing and able to shoot from the outside, while Central's primary outside weapon is 6-3 junior Joe Hamilton (10.3 points), who had a great preseason but has hit double figures only once in four WAC games.
"We were able to split with them last year and we have the talent to beat them again," said Patterson's Agustin Arreola, who before coaching the Tigers was a freshman coach at Central Catholic.
"But our margin for error is a lot less than theirs because of their size. When their guards make mistakes, they have big men to clean them up. We have to be efficient and take care of the basketball. The intensity of that game is going to be high."
Last year, each team won on the other's home court. Central won 56-48 at Patterson, but the Tigers spoiled the Raiders' senior night with a wild 63-61 decision.
Ceres coach Brian de la Porte, when asked for a prediction, gave the edge in this game to Central Catholic. He believes the Tigers' advantage at guard isn't enough to overcome the Raiders' edge in the paint.
"I think Central wins," said de la Porte, whose Bulldogs lost at home to Central 64-33 on Jan. 4.
"Central's guards are good athletes. Loya's athletic and Townsend is solid. Once Central gets deep into the playoffs, the development of their guards is going to be the key, but their bigs can play with anyone."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150. You can find his blog at thehive.modbee.com/thurman.