For the past two seasons, Riverbank High’s boys basketball team has made a respectable showing in the Northern California regional tournament.
Two close, first-round losses later, the Bruins are searching for more than just respectability.
“I want to make some noise,” said guard Rolaun Dunham, who averages 18.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. “But no matter what happens (tonight), we’ll leave our mark on Riverbank basketball.”
That’s for sure.
In Dunham’s four varsity campaigns, the Bruins are 87-22 with four postseason trips. Last year, they fell 63-59 to Marin Catholic (Kentfield), and two years ago they lost 50-48 to St. Vincent-St. Patrick (Vallejo).
Tonight, when Riverbank travels to take on Santa Cruz High School for the Division 3 opener, it’ll try to leave a much deeper mark on the program by getting that elusive NorCal victory.
Riverbank-Santa Cruz is just one of five games involving Stanislaus District teams. Merced High’s boys travel to take on McClymonds (Oakland) at Laney College in Division 1, Patterson’s girls host Analy (Sebastopol) in D3, and in Division 5 girls, Ripon Christian visit St. Vincent de Paul (Petaluma), while Central Catholic pays a call on East College Prep (East Palo Alto).
All games tip at 7 p.m., except for the Merced-McClymonds matchup, which starts at 7:30.
Fifth-seeded Santa Cruz (20-9) is led by 6-foot-1 sophomore guard Kaijae Yee-Stephens, who averages 20.8 points per game. Junior guard Kiree Hutchings averages 15.5 per contest, while 6-5 senior forward Spencer Schwartz averages 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.
However, the Cardinals are coming off two lopsided losses – an 84-51 loss to Archbishop Mitty (San Jose) in the Central Coast Section quarterfinals, and a 65-46 loss to Half Moon Bay in the consolation bracket.
“As always, our thing will be defensive pressure, and I’m not sure in that (Santa Cruz Coast) league they’re used to seeing that,” said Riverbank coach Jeff Jennings. “We hope it’s something we can do to disrupt them a little bit and create some problems.”
Jennings’ scouting report says Santa Cruz is not very deep.
“With our transition game and our pace, we’re hoping we can grind them down.”
That will no doubt be No. 5 McClymonds’ strategy against 12th-seeded Merced (24-6).
The Warriors (20-8), who reached the state final three straight seasons between 2007 and 2009, winning it all in ’08, are led by Oakland Athletic League MVP Deion Ellis, a 6-4 forward who had 19 points and 14 rebounds a 64-52 win over Fremont in the Oakland Section final.
“They have that up-tempo style,” said Merced coach Hector Nava, who played for the Bears in the 1995 NorCal tourney, reaching the final game. “If you let them go, they’ll fly through the lanes; if you make a turnover, it’s a layup at the other end. They’re extremely fast, but we got a pretty good warm-up for a team like them in the (section) final four when we faced Rodriguez (Fairfield).”
Patterson High’s girls are the lone district team with a home game tonight.
All season, the goal for the Tigers was to advance further in the Sac-Joaquin Section tournament than the 2002 Patterson team, for which coach Elizabeth Tolleson played.
The No. 8 Tigers (25-5) came up short of that goal, falling to Modesto Christian in the semifinals last week, but because they qualified for NorCals, they still can achieve their goal with a win over No. 9 Analy (19-11), since Tolleson’s team lost its NorCal opener.
“You have no idea,” said Tolleson, when asked if her team is excited to have another chance to best its coach. “They’re already stoked because my team never got to host a game. They want to get through this game and get in my face – in a positive way.
“And that’s OK, as long as we keep playing.”
No. 12 Ripon Christian (22-4) and No. 13 Central Catholic (17-10) not only face tough first-round opponents, they also face tough bus rides – each more than two hours.
For the Knights, guard Teagan Manus (17 points per game) will be a key player, as will the Raiders’ Danielle Friedrich (19.7 ppg), the third-leading freshman scorer in all of California.