Marcus Knott and the Merced boys basketball team return to the postseason with an old foe standing in the way: Sacramento Kennedy.
The Sac-Joaquin Section released its boys and girls playoff brackets on Sunday afternoon. And while curious basketball minds from Le Grand to Sacramento waited impatiently for PDFs to download, Knott did not.
He did the math on Saturday night, made a few phone calls and began piecing together a scouting report for an opponent he was sure would be Kennedy.
His calculations were spot on.
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Merced (23-4) will open the Division I playoffs on Friday as the No. 2 seed after winning its fourth straight Central California Conference championship, beating fourth-seeded Turlock twice and playing a rigorous nonconference schedule.
"The accomplishment speaks to the success we had in what we call the second season. We won another league championship and that was one of the goals we had. You don't get the two seed without being able to do that. We're proud, but now is the time we have to take advantage," Knott said.
"We put ourselves in a good position, but we've had a two seed against Kennedy in the past. We need to be prepared to play at a high level, give our best effort and hopefully be good enough to keep moving forward."
Its reward is a home game on Friday against No. 15 Kennedy, just 10-16 but the third-place finisher in the Delta Valley Conference. The DVC is home to the division's top seed, Franklin, and carried a 7.8 power rating.
Golden Valley (15-12) clinched its second consecutive playoff berth and will open at No. 3 Burbank. GV was positioned outside the top 16 in last week's final power ratings release, but climbed three spots to No. 14 with a rousing final week.
GV finally captured the upset it so desperately needed, knocking off Pitman -- a team that beat Merced -- and Atwater -- a team that beat Pitman.
"I'm excited to be in. It's a huge accomplishment to get back," Hunter said. "We've got a totally new crew. This is what you play for; your ultimate goal when you lace them up is to make the playoffs."
In all, eight local teams clinched playoff berths, including three girls teams:
The Livingston girls kick off the postseason with a play-in game tonight at Oakdale at 7 p.m. The winner will travel to Stockton St. Mary's for a first-round game on Tuesday. St. Mary's is ranked No.1 nationally by ESPN Rise and features two McDonald's All-Americans in Chelsea Gray and Afure Jemerigbe.
Livingston lost to St. Mary's in the second round last season, 99-15.
The Atwater girls program returns to the postseason after a six-year hiatus. Coach Jason Boesch's club earned the No. 14 seed in Division II and will open at Vallejo on Tuesday.
Le Grand was the highest seeded girls team in the area at No. 11 and will travel to No. 6 West Campus on Tuesday.
The boys begin on Wednesday:
No. 6 Mariposa rolled through Southern League play undefeated and looks to extend its 18-game winning streak against No. 11 Christian Brothers in their Division IV opener. The showdown is a rematch of a 2000 playoff game won by Mariposa. Christian Brothers was a defending section champion and Mariposa was led by a future NFL All-Pro, Logan Mankins.
In Division III action, No. 12 Livingston heads north to No. 5 Rio Americano.
And in Division V, No. 15 Stone Ridge Christian finds itself looking up at No. 2 Ripon Christian, literally. Ripon Christian is traditionally one of the taller teams in the southern half of the section and this season is no different. RC is powered by 6-foot, 8-inch center Tyler Goslinga.
Its been seven years since Merced and Kennedy last met in the first round of the playoffs, and for many in the Merced program the wounds haven't healed.
Kennedy waltzed out of Merced County with a blowout victory.
Merced was the No. 2 seed.
Kennedy was No. 15.
Players like senior Marques Barron were children in the stands, but old enough to understand the magnitude of the loss.
"They crushed us. It wasn't a pretty sight," Knott said. "A lot of our kids were small fans back then. They remember it. History is our reminder. It doesn't matter what seed you are. Everyone is capable at this stage. We can't be looking at seeds."
Like Merced, Golden Valley is familiar with its opponent. GV scrimmaged Burbank before the season -- a series of 10-minute games that also included Valley.
"We held our own. They're a pressure-type team, but they're not an NBA team. They make mistakes," Hunter said. "We did play with them. Can we do it for 32 minutes? I don't know. I'm looking forward to finding out.
"I can tell you this much, as coaches, we're not going in with any fear."