High School Sports

Joe Cortez: League basketball races take shape as playoffs loom

The new year is more than a month old, and February marks the start of the high school spring sports season. Soon, the ping of aluminum bats will ring out all over the Stanislaus District.

But February also marks the home stretch for the league portion of boys and girls basketball.

So, with the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs beginning Feb. 20, let’s look at how the postseason landscape is shaping up.

A quick reminder: All eight leagues in the Stanislaus District receive three playoff berths. Also, the section tweaked the basketball playoff format by guaranteeing that teams ranked in the top 12 in their divisions by MaxPreps would be assured of a playoff spot, regardless of where they finish in league.

Modesto Metro Conference – Things here are taking form rather neatly. Modesto Christian’s boys and girls are the class of the league, with the Enochs girls and Beyer boys virtually assured of the No. 2 seeds.

Third place isn’t as cut and dried.

For the boys, Enochs is 7-4 in league play, with Modesto at 6-5. The Eagles were 58-56 winners over the Panthers when they met Jan. 16, and they meet again Wednesday. Modesto fell to Beyer 67-66 in overtime on Friday, making Wednesday’s game a must-win.

As for the girls, Beyer is the favorite for the third seed, but Downey and Gregori aren’t out of it.

Central California Conference – The Turlock boys and Golden Valley girls clinched championships.

In the boys race, Golden Valley (6-3), Merced (6-3) and Pitman (5-4) are battling for the final two berths. Golden Valley is at Merced on Wednesday, while Pitman takes on Turlock. The Pride needs to beat the champs to have any chance of getting in.

The second and third berths for the CCC girls will be decided this week. Merced and Buhach Colony are assured of getting them; what remains to be seen is who lands where.

Valley Oak League – As in the MMC, this race is pretty clear.

Sierra, Manteca and Weston Ranch are 1-2-3 in the boys race and look as if they have enough to beat back all comers. The VOL girls are led by unbeaten Kimball, followed by Weston Ranch. Old rivals Manteca and East Union seem destined to fight it out for third.

Western Athletic Conference – There are clear front-runners on each side – Central Valley’s boys and Patterson’s girls are unbeaten in league play, and nobody is going to catch them. The Central Valley and Livingston girls are going to fight it out for the next two spots, while the Patterson and Ceres boys will battle for the last two spots.

First-year varsity program El Capitan was an impressive contender for much of the season but seems to be fading.

Trans-Valley League – After years of playing second fiddle to Modesto Christian’s girls, Riverbank is on top and will get that elusive title. Same with Ripon Chistian’s boys.

On the girls side, Hughson, Ripon and Ripon Christian will vie for the last two spots. Hughson has games remaining against Hilmar, Riverbank and RC; Ripon faces Riverbank, RC and Escalon; Ripon Christian battles Escalon, Ripon and Hughson. With a one-game lead over Ripon and RC, Hughson controls its destiny … but could still end up on the outside looking in. It’s that tight.

On the boys side, Ripon, Riverbank and Hughson are alive for the final two berths. Hughson kept its hopes alive Friday night when Tyler May scored the winning basket in the final seconds to beat back last-place Escalon.

Mother Lode League – Calaveras and Sonora are tied atop the boys standings at 7-2, with Summerville and Bret Harte two games back. Argonaut is still in the picture but needs to win both its remaining games, one of which is against Sonora – a tall order. The Wildcat girls, who lead Argonaut by half a game, will travel to face the Mustangs in an MLL showdown Tuesday. Sonora’s two remaining games are against Summerville and Amador, the league’s bottom two teams.

Southern League – Unbeaten Mariposa is running away with the boys race. Second-place Delhi has a big final week, with contenders Orestimba, Gustine and the presumptive champs still on the docket. Orestimba and Gustine each have very winnable games after facing Delhi, so the Hawks need to take care of business or find themselves leapfrogged by either of the Highway 33 rivals.

As for the girls, Gustine suffered its first loss of the SL campaign, falling to Mariposa on Tuesday, which opened the door for second-place Orestimba. However, the Redskins beat the Warriors 33-25 on Thursday to take command of the race. Orestimba has a half-game lead over Mariposa for second, and nobody else is seriously in contention.

Central California Athletic Association – Locally, only the Turlock Christian girls look as if they’ll make the postseason dance.

Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at jcortez@modbee.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.