MODESTO — The Central Catholic High boys basketball team spent all weekend kicking itself for what it felt was a missed opportunity to win a section title.
Well, at least one of the Raiders sat out the kicking part of the workouts, since center John Fenton continued to rehab his sprained ankle.
All of that is tied together.
Central Catholic lost to Brookside Christian in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 semifinals because it didn't do a good enough job of adjusting to the absence of its 6-foot-9 game-changer.
And then the Raiders had to sit back and watch Capital Christian win the section title 40-39 on the strength of a free throw that followed a loose ball foul called 35 feet from the basket with 0.7 seconds left in the game.
All of the above put Central Catholic at the mercy of the seeding committee. As Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalists, the Raiders were guaranteed a spot in the regional tournament and they could do nothing but hope for a favorable placement.
In the second piece of good news the team received since losing, Central Catholic (25-4) was awarded a No. 6 seed, which comes with a first-round home game tonight against Alma Heights (26-4) of Pacifica. The first good news is that Fenton's ankle is healing well and he is expected to play.
"I know the kids are excited," said Raiders coach Mike Wilson. "We practiced the day after we lost and they were pretty down, but now they see the NorCals as extra chance at life for our season and our team. I thought for sure we'd have to drive to Alturas for a game or have to open against a team like University."
Of the eight teams from the Stanislaus District opening regional play tonight, only three are home and all are boys teams.
In addition to the Raiders holding home court, Sierra hosts Shasta in Division 3 while Division 4 section champion Summerville hosts Orland. Sierra is the only district team in the field guaranteed a second-round home game with a victory.
Riverbank's boys will take to the road to play at Marin Catholic, while Ripon Christian's boys drew the long road trip straw and will visit Liberty Christian of Redding.
On the girls' side, Modesto Christian will visit Burlingame in a Division 3 opener, while Ripon Christian goes to San Anselmo to battle San Dominico and Turlock Christian goes to Watsonville to meet St. Francis in Division 5 games.
Modesto Christian's boys, who drew a No. 6 seed in the seven-team Open Division, will open play Friday night at Chabot College against Bishop O'Dowd.
The second-round games for Divisions 1-5 will be at home sites Saturday.
Wilson said that Fenton's ankle had healed to the point of where he probably would have been able to play had the Raiders reached Friday's championship game at Sleep Train. Even then, he thought his team should have won against Brookside even without the big man.
"Not having John changed the whole dynamic of our team," Wilson said. "Brookside did a good job of double-teaming him (outside threat) Joe Hamilton and taking him away. With John's in there, he's the guy getting double- and triple-teamed, which opens up so many things for the other players.
"Also, all of the sudden, players had to move into other positions. Jake Bland is comfortable at the high post, but with John out he had to play low, and other kids also had to adjust. My kids made a lot of mistakes against Brookside, but I couldn't fault their effort. They really played hard."
A victory against Alma Heights would send the Raiders into a game Saturday night against No. 3 seed University (San Francisco) at Kezar Pavilion. University has played in the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic the last three years, posting a 6-6 record against that elite level of competition.
Ticket prices, as set by the State CIF, are $9 for adults and $5 for children, seniors and students with valid ID.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150. Follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
NORCAL REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS
All games 7 p.m. unless noted
No. 13 Shasta (15-12) at No. 4 Sierra (27-5)
No. 12 Orland (24-5) at No. 5 Summerville (29-2)
No. 14 Riverbank (24-4) at No. 3 Marin Catholic (23-8)
No. 11 Alma Heights (26-4) at No. 6 Central Catholic (25-4)
No. 9 Ripon Christian (23-5) at No. 8 Liberty Christian (23-7)
No. 11 Modesto Christian (21-9) at No. 6 Burlingame (28-2), 6 p.m.
No. 11 Ripon Christian (20-7) at No. 6 San Dominico of San Anselmo (24-7)
No. 12 Turlock Christian (24-5) at No. 5 St. Francis of Watsonville (16-12)
No. 6 Modesto Christian (28-3) vs. No. 3 Bishop O'Dowd (26-3) at Chabot, 7:30 p.m.