Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs
Division V Soccer
First-round/Today Hughson (13-4-1) at Central Catholic (18-5-2), 3:30 p.m.
Modesto Chr. (13-7-2) at Linden (15-5), 3:30 p.m.
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Calaveras (11-12-4) at Ripon (19-4-1), 3:30 p.m.
Bret Harte (12-7-3) at Hilmar (21-4-2), 3:30 p.m.
If the teams were seeded:
No. 1 Central Cath., No. 2 Hilmar, No. 3 Ripon, No. 4 Linden
In the next round: Expect Central Catholic, which beat Hilmar on the final night of the regular season for the Western Athletic Conference title, to host Linden and Hilmar to visit Ripon -- a rematch of last year's section final, won by Hilmar 1-0. No reason the final shouldn't feature Round 4 -- Central is 2-1 vs. Hilmar -- between WAC powers.
Central is favored because:
The Raiders aren't intimidated by Hilmar's tradition or physical play, having scored six goals in their three matches. Nicole Meyer and Stephanie Manseau have combined for 25 goals, and the Raiders boast a 3-1 win over Division I quarterfinalist Pitman.
If Central doesn't win, it's likely because: Hilmar shook off its late slump -- 3-1-2 to close the regular season -- and began playing the sort of defense expected from the area's top small-school program. Tightening the defense is even more crucial than the scoring from Haylee Bettencourt, Blake Lopes and Noel Silveira.
The dark horse: Ripon was within a shot of winning its first section title last spring, so its playoff experience is a plus. The Indians have won 10 in a row and 15 of 16, and beat Central 2-1 in March. They have one of the bracket's most dynamic players in Renae McFadden, who can take it the length of the field.
TOP SCORERS IN BRACKET
1. Haylee Bettencourt, Hilmar: 27
2. Renae McFadden, Ripon: 26
2. Kallie Jacobs, Ripon: 26
4. Nicole Martinez, Linden: 24
5. Sierra Licata, Mod. Christian: 22
6. Meredith Perkins, Ripon: 18
7. Blake Lopes, Hilmar: 18
8. Noel Silveira, Hilmar: 16
9. Nicole Meyer, Central: 14
9. Jesse Myers, Calaveras: 14
-- RICHARD T. ESTRADA