After 18 seasons as Modesto Christian’s boys basketball coach, Gary Porter has learned this much: It really doesn’t matter in which division you play come the postseason.
“Playoffs are playoffs,” said Porter, who learned Sunday afternoon that the Crusaders were promoted to the Open Division – the state’s highest – for the Northern California regional tournament, joining Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), Capital Christian (Sacramento), Archbishop Mitty (San Jose), Newark Memorial and El Cerrito. “You have to come to play and perform at your best level night in and night out, or you go home. With hard work and a little luck, you’ll move on.”
To do that, Modesto Christian (23-8) will have to deliver a road victory against Newark Memorial (23-7) on Friday, something it wasn’t able to do in the season opener on Nov. 30 when the Cougars beat MC 64-50.
“They spanked us pretty good,” Porter said. “But we didn’t have two of our starters – Jeff (Wu) and Kevin (Hamlet) – because they were ineligible until January. I think we’re a much better team now.”
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The Crusaders’ girls team (23-8) was rewarded with the second seed in the D3 bracket after beating Florin (Sacramento) 39-37 behind two free throws from freshman Meagan Warwick with four-tenths of a second remaining.
That means MC, which opens Saturday at 6 p.m. with the winner of Soquel-Campolindo (Moraga), would get two home games and would play the championship game at a neutral site.
“The girls have worked extremely hard to get to this spot,” said MC girls coach Robb Spencer. “Usually, we have to take the long route in the NorCals, but we’ll definitely try to use this to out advantage.
“I think we got a great draw.”
The Central Catholic boys (25-6) couldn’t have done any better in the D5 bracket, getting the No. 1 seed, despite losing 62-41 in Friday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section D5 final to Capital Christian (Sacramento), which has been bumped up to the Open division.
“I’m shocked,” said Raiders coach Mike Wilson, whose team opens with the winner of Woodside Priory (Portola Valley)-University (SF) matchup on Saturday at 6. “I think it’s probably because we beat Brookside Christian and St. Joseph (Alameda).”
The Raiders thumped No. 2 seed St. Joe in Alameda back in December, and bested BC 56-47 in the section semifinal last week.
In Division 4 boys, Riverbank (23-4) was installed as the 12th seed and will travel Wednesday for a 7 p.m. game against No. 5 Santa Cruz.
The Bruins’ losses this year have come to three playoff teams – Casa Roble, Natomas and twice to Modesto Christian – and two of those teams won section titles.
So one can understand why Riverbank coach Jeff Jennings was puzzled by such a low seed.
“Being the lowest-ranked team in our area, I was a little surprised,” said Jennings, who is leading the Bruins into the NorCals for a third consecutive season. “I have an issue with the 12 seed, but then again, I’m not completely dissatisfied with where we’re at.”
Jennings points out that he Bruins narrowly lost to Natomas in the D4 section semis last week, while Encina Prep, the No. 8 seed, lost by 23 to Natomas in the section title game.
Last year, Riverbank lost 63-59 to Marin Catholic (Kentfield), which went on to reach the NorCal semifinal, and two years ago lost 50-48 to St. Patrick/St. Vincent (Vallejo).
“We took Thursday off to feel sorry for ourselves,” said Jennings. “Then we came back on Friday and had a very competitive practice.
“So, yeah, the players are hungry.”
In Division 1 boys, Merced (24-6) opens as the No. 12 seed and will visit McClymonds in a game slated to be played Wednesday at 7 at Oakland Tech High School.
Patteson High’s girls team, seeded eighth in Division 3, is the only other local team to earn a first-round home game. The Tigers (25-5) will play Wednesday at 7 p.m. against No. 9 Analy (Sebastopol). The winner is rewarded with a long trip to Redding to play against No. 1 Enterprise.
In Division 5 girls, Ripon Christian and Central Catholic both hit the road and will be heavy underdogs.
The 12th-seeded Knights (22-4) will take on No. 5 St. Vincent de Paul (Petaluma), while the No. 13 Raiders travel to East Palo Alto to play No. 4 Eastside College Prep.