Beyer High boys basketball coach Kyle McKim says the similarities are striking.
Little separates the Patriots and Sanger High, their opponent in Wednesday's opening round game of the CIF State Division III Northern California regional tournament.
You be the judge.
The Patriots are 20-11 after losing in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division final for the second straight season. The Apaches are also 20-11 after suffering their second straight loss in a Central Section final. Both teams are winless in section final games.
Despite their recent setbacks, the Patriots and Apaches woke up Tuesday morning ranked No. 1 in their respective sections at Division III, according to MaxPreps. For McKim, a fourth-year coach, it's another "cool thing for the program" revitalized by his touch. In the state poll, they are separated by just four spots: Sanger is No. 162 and Beyer No. 166.
Stylistically, McKim says Sanger is a carbon copy, as well. Both teams are led by take-charge point guards known for their guile and playmaking ability — Beyer’s Ben Polack, the Modesto Metro Conference MVP, and Sanger’s Morice Norris.
“I don’t know if that’s what the seeding committee had in mind," McKim said, "but if you look at the two of us, everything is the same — the rankings and the style.”
Little separates the two, except of course for the miles.
Beyer will have to cover more than two hours by van to reach Sanger, a small community east of Fresno.
The Patriots are no stranger to long road trips. McKim entered his team into the Clovis West Nike Invitational in December for moments just like this. There, Beyer faced some of the Central Section’s best over four days.
Rather than stay in or near Clovis, McKim opted to commute every day.
"We made that trip four straight days, so we’re used to going on the road,” McKim said. “There was a method to the madness; a reason why we did it that way. At some point, you have to go on the road.”
That time is now.
Beyer is back in the regional tournament for a second consecutive season. Next to a section championship, which eluded the Patriots for a second year following Saturday's loss to Central Catholic, a NorCal berth might be the ultimate mark of a championship-caliber program.
It’s a tournament reserved for the best of the best, and with McKim pulling the strings, Beyer belongs.
After pulling away from Mountain View in the first round of last season's D-II regional, the Patriots traveled to Moreau Catholic in Hayward, the eventual state runner-up.
The Mariners attacked with next-level talent: Damari Milstead is now a sharpshooting freshman at Grand Canyon University, and highly touted prospect Kyree Walker, one of the top underclassmen in the country, transferred to a Hillcrest Hoops in Arizona after the 2017 season.
“That’s the biggest thing for this program. We’re not win-chasing, we’re experience-chasing,” McKim said. “We want cool experiences. That’s why we asked for (San Joaquin) Memorial in the first round of the Holiday Hoop. We want to play against the best. They want to play against Jalen Green (of Memorial) and Kyree Walker.
"When you get to NorCals, you’re going to see great competition.”
Some carry that expectation all season long. Others, like Beyer and Sanger, must stumble and fall before their goals come into focus.
Sanger went 4-6 in the County/Metro league, and squandered a 17-point lead against Immanuel in Saturday’s D-III Central Section final. The Patriots lost seven games in November and December as a talented junior class, led by James Tonge, McKay Bundy and Hayden Keller, struggled to assimilate.
The turning point came in a rivalry victory at Enochs on Feb. 2.
The juniors asserted themselves in a playoff-like atmosphere. Tonge buried a pair of 3-pointers late in the contest, Keller made four free throws in the fourth quarter, and Bundy’s charge swung the emotional pendulum in Beyer’s favor.
The trio combined for 40 of the team’s 69 points.
“We can point to that moment, when James hit those shots, and say that’s where he grew up. McKay took a charge and scored 17 points,” McKim said. “That game is where we really turned a corner and the young guys got confidence they could make big plays in big games. We needed some of those younger guys to step up and do more with it.
“If we look back at the beginning of the year, our rough start and the tough time we had building it, we peaked at the right time,” he added. “For this team to get here, it’s huge. I wasn’t sure we’d get to this point."