RIVERBANK — Like any coach, Riverbank High’s Jeff Jennings was hoping for a blowout Wednesday, so he could rest his starters in preparation for a quick turnaround on Friday night.
Facing Summerville High, he knew he wasn’t going to get it.
Though the Bruins appeared to have a relatively stress-free evening after their 70-48 victory over the Bears in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 boys basketball playoff opener – a rematch of last year’s semifinal – Summerville was in no mood to abdicate its D4 throne so quickly.
“They’re a team that’s always going to be scrappy,” said Jennings, whose third-seeded Bruins (22-3) advance to play No. 6 Lathrop, a 52-37 winner over Mariposa, on Friday at Riverbank High, the sweetest little gymnasium in the Stanislaus District. “Summerville is similar to our team – they’re from a hard-working community and they’ll come out and play hard.
“And they’re young, that’s the scary part.”
The Bears (10-16) graduated loads of talent from last season’s section champion and squeaked into the playoffs this year as the No. 4 qualifier from the Mother Lode League. But they start four sophomores and a junior and have two other 10th-graders in their regular rotation. Plus, they’ve got size and depth coming up from a talented junior varsity squad.
“This experience is worth a lot,” said Summerville coach Ben Watson, whose team was led by 12 points from sophomore Braden Anderson. “They get to see what it’s like in the postseason, when the tempo goes up and the physicality goes up.
“They came out and played hard and didn’t play scared, like young teams often do.”
But while Summerville is the team of the past, and possibly the future, Riverbank is the team of the here and now.
The Bruins jumped out to 29-18 lead, getting 10 early points from Player of the Year candidate Rolaun Dunham. At that point, however, the Bears went on a 10-2 run to make it 31-28 a little less than 3 minutes remaining in the half. Dunham stopped the run with a basket and a free throw and Riverbank stretched its lead to 38-28 at the break.
In the second half, the Bruins pulled away and got big efforts from Curtis Porter III (11 points), Tristan Rodgers (10 points) and Reilly Nabors (nine points).
“We needed to pick up our defensive intensity and limit their offensive rebounds,” said Dunham, who led all scorers with 19 points. “That allowed us to get out on the fast break and that’s when we’re at our best.”
Dunham was, perhaps, the main reason Jennings was hoping for a quick knockout.
The team’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, Dunham played for the first time in 12 days since injuring his ankle Feb. 14 in the first quarter against Modesto Christian.
“It is what it is,” said Jennings. “He doesn’t seem to have that explosive lift, but he’s still mobile; it may have changed his game a little bit.”
According to Dunham, the ankle’s not quite 100 percent, but it’s good enough.
“It feels good right now,” said Dunham, barely 24 hours after the Riverbank girls ended the season for Summerville’s girls. “It was a little tight before the game and it’s a little sore right now.”
Still, Dunham knows at this point in the season, nobody’s looking down, contemplating injured ankles. Everybody’s looking up, to him, thinking about cutting down nets at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.