Elliot Christian point guard Jalen Valverde, left, rises for a layup against Envision Academy during a CIF NorCal quarterfinal Saturday at McNair High in Stockton. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD
The Elliot Christian boys basketball team is the top ranked area team in its division statewide, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
Elliot Christian is tabbed at No. 4 in Division V behind No. 1 San Pedro-Rolling Hills Prep, No. 2 Riverside-Notre Dame and No. 3 Watsonville-St. Francis.
The Eagles host Ross-Branson in a CIF NorCal Division V semifinal at 7 p.m. today at Tokay High.
The other area boys team alive, St. Mary’s, is considered an “on the bubble” team in Division I.
Cal-Hi ranks the St. Mary’s girls at No. 6 in the state for the Open Division, and No. 3 in NorCal behind No. 1 San Jose-Archbishop Mitty and No. 5 Los Altos Hills-Pinewood. Mitty hosts St. Mary’s in a semifinal at 7 p.m. today in San Jose.
The Argonaut girls, who travel to East Palo Alto-Eastside College Prep, are No.6 in Division V.
When two rivals meet in the playoffs, the spectators can be nearly as invested and anxious as the participant.
Take the pregame scene at Pacific’s Spanos Center, where fans awaited the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinal between rivals No. 4 Lincoln and No. 1 St. Mary’s.
Doug Murray, Delta College football’s defensive coordinator and the father of Rams guard Naje Murray, sat perched wearing a long-sleeved, black “DC” shirt, at the top of the bleachers where Pacific students usually sit for home games.
Watching his daughter play, he said, is a bit more nerve-racking than a Delta gameday, because of his lack of control.
Nearby, Edison girls coach Diondre Hawthorne reclined and took in the other semifinal between No. 3 El Dorado Hills-Oak Ridge and No. 2 Sacramento-McClatchy.
Edison has won consecutive San Joaquin Athletic Association championships in Hawthorne’s two years. The Vikings earned the No. 10 seed in this year’s Division I playoffs and dropped its opener to No. 7 Brookside Christian.
Hawthorne was watching a game he envisions for his Edison team, which hadn’t won a league title since 1977 until February of 2016.
A few vital facts before tipoff, which should be 8:30 p.m.
DeCostamania: Junior forward Aquira DeCosta is back for St. Mary’s, and the 6-foot-2 megaprospect showed she’s recovering well from her torn meniscus by scoring 26 points in the quarterfinal win over Davis on Thursday. Lincoln’s win over St. Mary’s in January came without DeCosta, senior guard Naje Murray (ACL tear) and junior guard Ariel Johnson (ankle injury) on the court. They’re all here tonight.
“Nobody believes in us”: One of the best things Jim Harbaugh did for the San Francisco 49ers is instill a healthy sense of bitterness and venom. The cliche-but-impactful “Nobody believes in us” tactic. Lincoln has to summon every bit of that tonight, and challenge it into mean-spirited defense, good decision-making, ball protection and driving to the basket without fear of DeCosta, Johnson or Neenah Young.
Rare: It doesn’t appear that Lincoln and St. Mary’s have faced each other in the postseason, at least in the tenure of Gonsalves (since 2002). So no matter what happens, tonight’s matchup is historic and should be savored.
Lincoln's Andre Kelly, right, and St. Mary's J.D. Dike, center, fight for the basketball as Lincoln's Darius Harris looks on during their Tri-City Athletic League game on Wednesday at Morelli Gym in Stockton. CALIXTRO ROMIAS/THE RECORD
It’s almost here. Wait for it. Now WATCH:
The basketball playoffs are here! And usually, the release of the brackets is more a ceremonially-exciting thing. It takes awhile for league rematches, or marquee games, to show up.
But the Sac-Joaquin Section (which communications director Will DeBoard acknowledged during the selection show with The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson) is warming to placing same-city and same-league teams together earlier on in the playoffs.
This leads to three fascinating (and it should be noted, only hypothetical quarterfinal games:
Division I Boys: No. 5 West at No. 4 Lincoln
Division III Boys: No. 11 Lathrop at No. 3 Manteca
Division III Girls: No. 5 Kimball at No. 4 Manteca
Now, Lathrop needs to upset Sacramento-Rio Americano, and Lincoln has no easy task in No. 13 Sacramento High (a team that just defeated a really tough Sacramento-Burbank squad recently).
These games, though, and especially Lincoln at West, could be fascinating.
Now, here are a couple of Stockton matchups that are right off the bat.
Division I Boys: No. 14 Stagg at No. 3 St. Mary’s
Division I Girls: No. 10 Edison at No. 7 Brookside Christian
You have to love that. Stagg and St. Mary’s used to be in the Tri-City Athletic League together. Edison and Brookside Christian has a great group of talented players. That’s not a rivalry game, but expect it to be a heated one. Edison is a large school with plenty of alumni in its following, so it will be fascinating to see how that plays out in Brookside’s small gym.
Finally, there could be an epic, noon matchup for the Division V boys championship on March 4 at Spanos Center. Elliot Christian is No. 1 and Brookside Christian is No. 2 in that bracket. Those two are the Central California Athletic Alliance champion and runner-up. Plus, No. 3 Argonaut (Mother Lode League standout) is in that bracket, as is defending champion Mariposa County as a No. 4.
Tracy third baseman Lee Brewer hits a single during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South playoffs in May 2016 at Pacific's Klein Family Field in Stockton. RECORD FILE 2016
Lee Brewer was not The Record’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year last spring (it was impossible to deny St. Mary’s center fielder Jarron Silva, now at UCLA), but he certainly produced a deserving season.
Brewer, now a senior and third baseman for the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South champion Bulldogs, batted .393 with nine home runs, nine doubles, a triple and 29 RBI. He also posted an on-base percentage of .590 and a slugging percentage of .820 for an unearthly 1.510 OPS. Brewer might be a corner infielder and a power hitter, but he’s also fast, with 14 stolen bases in 16 tries.
He’s been recruited by NCAA Division I programs, namely on the West Coast, and don’t be surprised if he appears for a West Coast Conference program.
Brewer is one of 10 of my returning players to watch for the 2017 season. Here are 10 more:
Christian Almanza, St. Mary’s 1B, junior
Almanza commanded his bat like a veteran all-star as just a sophomore last season. The tall lefty batted .360 with a homer, 10 doubles and 25 RBI, with an on-base percentage of .424. While he can remain a contact hitter, expect Almanza’s power numbers to grow as he physically matures.
Jacob Standridge, Bear Creek RHP, senior
Standridge wasn’t given a 6-foot-6 frame, a superb fastball or a gnarly breaking ball. But man, the Bruins’ ace knows how to pitch. And Standridge’s expertise, with a great, aggressive means of throwing strikes and mixing location and speeds, led Bear Creek to the San Joaquin Athletic Association championship and an unexpected playoff run. Bear Creek knocked out area foes Lodi and Lincoln (via upset) of the Division I South playoffs, and had St. Mary’s on the ropes with a one-run lead entering the seventh inning before a dramatic comeback. Standridge went 8-1 with 1.00 ERA including six complete games. He struck out 57, walked 15 and didn’t allow a homer.
Cody Bolton, Tracy RHP, senior
Bolton is a two-time first-team All-Area pitcher who’s headed to play Division I ball at the University of Michigan. He’s a slender-but-powerful, 6-foot-5 pitcher, who went 8-1 with a 1.96 ERA as a junior. Bolton came through on a big stage, beating Elk Grove in Game 2 of the Division I finals series by allowing one earned run on eight hits across six innings, with seven strikeouts and one walk.
Joseph Chalco, Lincoln CF, senior
Chalco is the type of player — fast, incredibly smart and an excellent defensive player — who would excel in any era of baseball. The returning first-team All-Area pick batted .316 with seven doubles and four triples, and his arm in center field was a great weapon for Lincoln.
Nate Torres, Bear Creek C/RHP/UT, senior
Torres came into his own as a powerful middle-of-the-lineup basher late in the season for Bear Creek. Oh, and he can pitch, too! Torres batted .427 with a homer, 15 doubles and a whopping 37 RBI, with a .519 on-base percentage and a .629 slugging percentage for an OPS of 1.148. On the mound, Torres went 4-2 with a 1.81 ERA in seven starts.
Josh Alvarado, Tracy OF, junior
Alvarado wasted no time making an impact on the varsity stage. The Bulldogs’ speedy outfielder hit .330 with seven doubles and 22 RBI, with five stolen bases. He might move to center field after the graduation of Robert “Yaya” Garcia and could be a leadoff hitter should Tracy move Brewer to the middle of the order. However, Brewer had great success at the top spot so a Brewer-Alvarado, 1-2 punch could be deadly.
Jack Mayer, Ripon RHP/UT, senior
Mayer was a menace in the Trans-Valley League for the Indians as a junior. He batted .356 with 13 RBI but his major impact came on the mound. Mayer went 11-2 with a 2.08 ERA, four shutouts, six complete games, no-hitter and 98 strikeouts.
Kyle Rachels, Manteca UT, junior
Rachels thrived in relative obscurity for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Buffaloes a year ago. The then-sophomore, a second-team All-Area pick for The Record, batted .351 with three homers, five triples, seven doubles and 31 RBI. Junior standouts may define VOL baseball in the city of Manteca, as Sierra’s Jacob Peterson, a fellow second-team All-Area pick, is another player to keep an eye on.
Dillon Tatum, St. Mary’s C, junior
Tatum was not only a solid backstop for the Rams, but had some pop, batting .349 with three homers (including one in the playoffs), seven doubles and 23 RBI. He and Almanza could be a premier 3-4 duo that can wear down TCAL pitching with the best of them. Plus, that experience at catcher is invaluable for any team with section championship aspirations.
Tyler Lozano, St. Mary’s IF, junior
Lozano was an unsung hero for the Rams, batting .417 with four doubles and a .525 on-base percentage. Expect him to be a fixture at the top of the order for St. Mary’s.
Chavez guard Carlos Gaston, center, drives against Edison during a San Joaquin Athletic Association boys basketball game in January at Chavez High in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017
March Madness is here 19 days early.
The final night of San Joaquin Athletic Association regular-season boys basketball is here. And before we dive into potential playoff scenarios, here’s a quick look at the hierarchy:
2016-17 SJAA standings
T1. Edison 7-2, 17-9*
T1. Stagg 7-2, 17-9*
3. Chavez 6-3, 13-12
4. Franklin 5-4, 8-15
T5. McNair 1-8, 3-20
T5. Bear Creek 1-8, 4-22
*Clinched Sac-Joaquin Section playoff bids
HERE’S THE RUNDOWN
Franklin hosts Edison and Chavez hosts Stagg both at 7 p.m. tonight.
If Franklin and Chavez win: Edison, Stagg and Chavez split the league title three ways and Chavez gets the top seed due to going 3-1 against Edison and Stagg, while Edison would be 2-2 and Stagg would be 1-3.
If Franklin and Stagg win: Stagg is the outright SJAA champion, Edison is the runner-up and Chavez and Franklin are left tied for the third and final playoff seed. That would mean a play-in game, which Chavez would host since it has a better point differential in splitting two games with Franklin. That game would likely be held on Wednesday, Feb. 15.
If Edison and Chavez win: Edison would be outright champion for a second consecutive season, and Chavez and Stagg would tie for second place. Chavez would have the No. 2 seed since it would have swept Stagg.
If Edison and Stagg win: Edison and Stagg split the SJAA championship banner, but Stagg would have the top playoff seed due to a better head-to-head point differential. Chavez would be alone in the spot for the third playoff bid.
NUMBER TO KNOW
It’s been 14 years since Franklin reached the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The Yellowjackets made the Division I bracket and faced Carmichael-Jesuit in February 2003.
The Lincoln girls basketball team are the top-ranked area team in NorCalPreps’ latest Top 20 hierarchy.
Lincoln is No. 8, followed directly by rival St. Mary’s at No. 9. The Trojans beat the Rams 48-42 on Jan. 29 at Lincoln. Lincoln is also The Record’s top-ranked large school team and St. Mary’s is No. 2. Brookside Christian was formerly in the top 20 but has dropped out after losing to Albany-Saint Mary’s.
There are no area teams in the boys rankings despite appearances by Elliot Christian and Lincoln earlier this season.
However, the St. Mary’s boys team is No. 22 in The Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson’s NorCal Top 25 for MaxPreps.com. St. Mary’s moved up one spot from No. 23 after beating Tokay, West and Modesto-Gregori in succession.
The Chavez, in white, and Edison boys basketball teams are SJAA co-leaders and meet at 7 p.m. today at Edison's Taggart Gym in Stockton. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2017
The biggest night of boys basketball thus far this season is here. There are enormous games for league championship, and playoff implications, in the Tri-City Athletic League, San Joaquin Athletic Association and Valley Oak League.
Here’s a brief look at all three. The Record is planning on having a reporter at all three games so make sure to grab a copy of The Record on Saturday and look online at recordnet.com late tonight.
Storyline: The Record’s top-three ranked teams, and the TCAL’s top three teams, St. Mary’s, West and Lincoln are bizarrely 0-4 at home when they play each other head-to-head. St. Mary’s has a chance to break that pattern tonight, as it hosts its toughest three games remaining: West, Lincoln and Tokay. If St. Mary’s wins, it will keep the top spot in The Record’s power rankings. If West wins, I will probably decide to make it a three-way tie between St. Mary’s, West and Lincoln, who, if Lincoln beats Lodi, would be in a three-way tie for first place in the TCAL. Keep in mind that the TCAL gets three automatic playoff bids, and Tracy is only behind second-place Lincoln and West by one game each. West has a good enough record that it could probably get into the postseason with a fourth-place finish barring a crazy collapse.
Chavez at Edison
Storyline: Franklin quietly provided an upset earlier this week, beating Chavez, which hadn’t yet lost an SJAA game, 69-63 behind a whopping 63 points from Milton Jordan, Now the Titans and Vikings are tied atop the league at 6-1. Edison was the 2016 outright champion and Chavez split the banner with Bear Creek in 2015. It’s senior night for Edison and they should have a big home crowd at Taggart Gym. Expect seniors in the Vikings’ Wesley Bookman and the Titans’ Carlos Gaston to have a massive impact on the outcome at both ends of the floor.
No. 4 Manteca at Weston Ranch
Storyline: When you think about the Buffaloes last season, you remember them winning a CIF State Division III championship. What you overlook is they were VOL and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III runners-up to Weston Ranch. In fact, Manteca hasn’t won a league title in seven years. The Buffaloes clinch at least a share of the VOL by winning today, and if they win and Central Catholic loses, they are outright champions. But look out, a young Weston Ranch team has been playing better basketball, and might have enough depth — albeit with a lot of inexperienced players — to present an upset bid.
Manteca forward Tydus Verhoeven, center, dunks in a nonleague loss to Lincoln in December at Winter Gym. CLIFFORD OTO/RECORD FILE 2016
Lincoln High’s Andre Kelly, Manteca’s Tydus Verhoeven and Stockton Christian’s Kadyn Pieters were all named State Stat Stars of the Week by Cal-Hi Sports.
Here’s why each of these (Kelly and Verhoeven are seniors and Pieters is a freshman) made the list:
Kelly had 32 points and 20 rebounds in Lincoln’s 89-61 win at Tokay.
Verhoeven approached a triple-double with 24 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks in an 81-61 win at Lathrop.
Pieters, who has two 40-points games this season, poured out 29 points with 18 rebounds, eight steals, six assists and four blocks in a 64-36 win over Delta Charter. She is the younger sister of Cameron Pieters, who led the Stockton Christian boys to a NorCal title game last March and is now playing for Delta College.
Bob Highfill has been with The Record sports department since 1990. He started as a part-time reporter/agate clerk then covered the high school sports beat before taking on the Pacific athletics beat. In 2006, he was named sports editor. Bob was ... Read Full
Linesburgh has been a member of The Record's sports department since 1988. A native of Wantagh, N.Y., he covers the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League, and has spent more than a quarter century reporting various other sports on the high ... Read Full
Lawrence became a prep and general assignment sports reporter for The Record in August 2014. He has covered high school, college and professional sports and more in his career. From November of 2011 through summer 2014, he covered college and prep ... Read Full