High School Sports

Burns: Manteca, Pitman girls make dramatic debuts in basketball poll

Pitman senior Cerah Moren (22) dribbles around Atwater senior Eileen Martinez (5) during a game at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. The Pride beat the Falcons 45-43.
Pitman senior Cerah Moren (22) dribbles around Atwater senior Eileen Martinez (5) during a game at Atwater High School in Atwater, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. The Pride beat the Falcons 45-43. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Week to week, The Modesto Bee’s high school girls basketball large-school poll have been as turbulent as Dorothy’s flight to Oz.

The only team not twisting in the wind is Modesto Christian, the season-long No. 1 and one of the top teams in the state, regardless of division. The Crusaders will sail through their remaining Modesto Metro Conference games, completing a wire-to-wire trip as The Bee’s top-ranked team.

The real power struggle is taking shape behind Modesto Christian, where the shuffling continues this week. No. 2 Manteca and No. 3 Pitman have stormed to the top of the Valley Oak League and Central California Conference standings and make splashy debuts in the poll.

Their rise can be attributed to their bigs.

The Buffaloes are led by Louisville-bound forward Loretta Kakala, who recently became the first Stanislaus District player to be selected a McDonald’s All American. The versatile 6-foot-3 talent is averaging a double-double, but her patience with the cast around her has been the most encouraging sign for first-year coach Ryan Bono. Kakala teams with Syd’nee Fryer to give Manteca as formidable a 1-2 punch as any team in the district.

The Pride have leaned on 6-1 junior Kaylin Randhawa, who has shouldered the scoring load in defining victories over Turlock and Atwater. Randhawa scored 10 of her 26 points against Turlock in the fourth quarter, knocking the then-No. 2 Bulldogs out of the top five. She also had 23 points in a win at Atwater on Tuesday.

Central Catholic also makes its debut at No. 5, supplanting VOL foe East Union. This call was easy. The Raiders have won four straight and toppled the Lancers on Tuesday behind 30 points by senior Danielle Friedrich.

With the depth of the CCC and the firepower in the VOL, Nos. 2 through 5 could remain a revolving door through the end of the season. While East Union, Turlock and Merced fell out of the top five this week, they could fight their way back in next week. There are others, too, quietly building steam in the Western Athletic Conference (Patterson) and MMC (Enochs).

Here’s a closer look at The Bee’s large- and small-school polls, which consider performance and potential, schedule and MaxPreps’ Sac-Joaquin Section rankings (as of Jan. 24):

Large schools

1. Modesto Christian (15-3, 8-0 MMC): The Crusaders have held their last three MMC opponents to 19 points or fewer. Modesto Christian won’t be challenged in league but will look to nonleague games against James Logan of Union City (Saturday) and Vanden of Fairfield (Feb. 4) as tuneups for the postseason. MaxPreps: 8.

2. Manteca (10-9, 7-0 VOL): The Buffaloes were tested by injuries and a rigorous schedule in December, but the challenges have paid off in the VOL. After beating Kimball and East Union, Manteca is the favorite to raise the league banner. MaxPreps: 51.

3. Pitman (13-9, 5-2 CCC): The Pride have won three straight, including victories over Turlock and Atwater, to vault into the top five, and Randhawa has played like an MVP candidate. Randhawa has scored 20 or more points in four of her last five games. MaxPreps: 49.

4. Atwater (16-5, 5-2 CCC): The Falcons are a stumble (or trip) away from being in sole possession of first place in the CCC. Jasmine Xiong drove the lane late against Pitman but fell and lost the handle on the ball. The turnover led to Randhawa’s winning basket. MaxPreps: 30.

5. Central Catholic (14-5, 5-2 VOL): Four-year varsity starter Danielle Friedrich scored 30 points in the Raiders’ victory over fast-falling East Union on Tuesday. Central Catholic has won four straight and can tighten the VOL race Thursday against Manteca. MaxPreps: 40.

Others: East Union, Turlock, Merced, Enochs, Patterson.

Small schools

1. Argonaut (19-2, 6-1 MLL): The Mustangs have big dates with Calaveras (Feb. 3) and Sonora (Feb. 7) but can’t overlook Summerville, which upset Calaveras on Tuesday. Argonaut has won two straight. MaxPreps: 26.

2. Calaveras (16-3, 6-1 MLL): Calaveras fell from the ranks of the unbeaten – and the No. 1 spot – with a surprising, low-scoring loss to Summerville. One week after storming past Argonaut, Calaveras was held to a season low in points in a 35-27 loss to the Bears. MaxPreps: 19.

3. Mariposa (17-2, 5-0 SL): The Grizzlies took a seven-game winning streak into Wednesday’s Southern League clash with Orestimba, also 5-0 in league. Kirsten Dubberke has starred for Mariposa, averaging 20.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 steals. MaxPreps: 52.

4. Sonora (15-4, 5-2 MLL): The Wildcats have won two straight and close the week at Bret Harte on Friday. The final four games of the regular season set up nicely for Sonora, which hosts Calaveras (Tuesday), Argonaut (Feb. 7) and Summerville (Feb. 10). MaxpPreps: 28.

5. Hilmar (12-7, 5-1 TVL): The Yellowjackets have won four straight, including wins over Ripon and Escalon, two teams ahead of Hilmar in the MaxPreps section rankings. Hilmar is steaming toward a Feb. 2 clash with Trans-Valley League leader Mountain House. MaxPreps: 95.

Others: Orestimba, Ripon, Escalon.

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980

Stanislaus District Girls Basketball Rankings

MaxPreps’ Sac-Joaquin Section rankings (in parenthesis) and records as of Jan. 24.

Large schools

1. Modesto Christian (8) 15-3, 8-0 MMC

2. Manteca (51) 10-9, 7-0 VOL

3. Pitman (49) 13-9, 5-2 CCC

4. Atwater (30) 16-5, 5-2 CCC

5. Central Catholic (40) 14-5, 5-2 VOL

Others: East Union, Turlock, Merced, Enochs, Patterson.

Small school

1. Argonaut (26) 19-2, 6-1 MLL

2. Calaveras (19) 16-3, 6-1 MLL

3. Mariposa (52) 17-2, 5-0 SL

4. Sonora (28) 15-4, 5-2 MLL

5. Hilmar (95) 12-7, 5-1 TVL

Others: Orestimba, Ripon, Escalon.