It’s warm outside. The almond blossoms are gone and the ping of aluminum bats can be heard on every high school campus.
But two Stanislaus District boys basketball teams are doing what they can to keep the winter season alive as long as possible.
Modesto Christian and Sierra have ascended to the rarified air of the NorCal semifinals. The Crusaders (29-3) vie for their first Open Division final berth tonight in San Mateo against Serra (23-5), while the Timberwolves (30-2) visit Moraga to face Campolindo (26-4) in Division III.
This is the third year California has held an Open Division tournament, and it’s the third year MC has won its first-round game to lay claim as the only boys program to advance past the first round in Open play. Now the seventh-seeded Crusaders are looking to take the next step.
“There are different stylistic matchups, but any team playing in the Open Division is a big-time, quality team,” said MC coach Richard Midgley, the point guard on the last MC team (2000-01) to win 30 games.
“I know Serra has had a lot of success the last three, four years, and they seem to play Mitty to three or four points every time, even when Mitty had Aaron Gordon. They’re a tough, well-coached group of players and we’re going to have our hands full.”
The sixth-seeded Padres, who are 15-1 on their home floor, also had to go on the road in the first round and stunned favored Moreau Catholic 79-51 Friday, the night MC edged Monte Vista 47-44 in Danville.
“They’re one of those teams that won’t ever hurt themselves,” Midgley said. “They’re similar to Monte Vista and some of the other teams we’ve played this year in that we know going in that we can’t turn the ball over and we’re going to have to rebound well to stay in the game.”
A victory over Serra would send MC to the NorCal title game against the winner of tonight’s Folsom-Bishop O’Dowd game at Laney College. The title game is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena.
Sierra is experiencing this level of play for the first time, coming off the program’s first Sac-Joaquin Section title and first 30-win season thanks to its initial NorCal triumph, 65-57 over Riordan on Saturday.
And the game against Campolindo should be very interesting, since both sides play similar styles. Both boast hard-nosed defenses, and both will take the fast-break points when available but are very comfortable in halfcourt sets.
The Cougars displayed all of the above in claiming the championship of the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic in December, beating El Cerrito 67-63 and the host Crusaders 72-63 in overtime in the final two rounds.
A win would put Sierra in the NorCal title game at 8 p.m. Saturday at American Canyon High School against the Drake-Mission winner, and junior forward Jess Spivey, like his teammates, is confident Sierra has what it takes to keep playing past tonight.
“We hopefully can get the win (today) and keep going from there,” Spivey said. “The sky’s the limit and we’re certainly not going to relax at this point.”
NorCal Basketball Semifinals
Open Division: Modesto Christian at Serra (San Mateo)
Division III: Sierra at Campolindo (Moraga)
Tipoff: 7 p.m. (gates open at 5:30)
Fan notes: Home teams are required to hold 500 seats for visiting fans until 15 minutes before tipoff, but both games are expected to sell out
Tickets: $9 adults, $5 seniors and students with cards
Social Media: Brian VanderBeek will be live-tweeting from the MC-Serra game @modestobeek; Joe Cortez will be live-tweeting from Sierra-Campolindo @modbeepreps