The Grant Pacers are on the brink of rare territory: on the outside of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoff loop, and wondering what happened.
At 2-5, Grant needs to win its final three Delta Valley Conference games against Monterey Trail (5-2), Davis (4-3) and Laguna Creek (2-5) to avoid its first losing season since 1990.
The Pacers in the midst of a brutal schedule that includes losses to top-ranked Elk Grove (24-0) and No. 2 Franklin (34-26) to open DVC play have two reasons to continue the fight: pride and the knowledge that three Division I teams made the postseason last year at 5-5 in Jesuit, Rodriguez and Sheldon.
"We have a good team that has underachieved," said Mike Alberghini, Grant's coach since 1991. His program has made the postseason 21 consecutive seasons, the second-longest active run in Northern California to De La Salle's NorCal record of 30.
"Yes, we've played a lot of really good teams, and that's what we want, and it's something we'll always do, and teams play their best against us," Alberghini said. "It's up to us to play better and we haven't, and that's on all of us coaches and players. We need to be sharper. It's not about our kids not trying, or lack of talent. It's been a continuous set of mistakes.
"And if we make the playoffs, I wouldn't fear anyone."
But can they get in? The Pacers need at least two league wins to even be considered, per section criteria. They have none at the moment. Grant outplayed Franklin in the second half two weeks ago but had a game-winning field-goal attempt blocked and returned for a score with no time left.
Against Elk Grove, turnovers only allowed an excellent Thundering Herd team even more chances to gain control.
"Keep in mind that if Grant were in many other sections in the state, it would be a playoff team," said Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports that has chronicled prep sports in the state for more than 30 years.
"That section puts more of a premium on wins have to have six (in most cases) to make the playoffs. Assuming Grant wins its last three games, there are a number of six-win playoff teams in Division I in which Grant is clearly superior."
A losing record would be the first in Alberghini's career as a football and baseball coach at the Del Paso Heights school in a combined 44 seasons. Grant this week fell out of The Bee's rankings for the first time since the first week of the 1991 season, Alberghini's first.
The only regional program to rival Grant's staying power in the rankings would be Cordova, which led the nation in wins from 1970 to 1986 and was ranked each season. Grant led the area in wins in the 1990s and 2000s.