José Luis Villegas /

Cameron Oliver (3) and Grant will play top-seeded Folsom on Wednesday in the tight Division II semifinals.

Sac-Joaquin boys, girls go big in semifinal matchups

Published: Sunday, Mar. 2, 2014 - 9:14 pm
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 - 7:36 am

The goal was March.

Every high school playoff team from the Sac-Joaquin Section wanted to sample their own measure of “March Madness” by extending their seasons into the semifinal rounds at neutral sites. That pressure cooker starts now.

The Division I and II girls invade Pacific on Tuesday as they attempt to acclimate to spacious confines and unfamiliar opponents. The D-I and II boys head to Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday, where it’s even more spacious.

D-III girls and boys are at Cosumnes River College on Tuesday.

The smaller divisions compete at high school venues, but the expectations are just as grand, including the D-VI championship games Thursday at Galt.

All section semifinalists, except in D-VI, qualify for the Northern California Regional tournament that starts at home sites next week.

Big Red is rolling – Jesuit has performed like the top seed in D-I. The Marauders blasted Granite Bay 77-39 in a quarterfinal in the program’s 100th section playoff game, a record.

And nice timing, too. Marauders coach Greg Harcos was ecstatic over his team’s effort as Jesuit on Jan. 3 muscled past Granite Bay 49-44. On Friday, Lake Lutes scored 29 points, Isaiah Bailey scored 15 and Brady Anderson had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We’ve been waiting for that one,” Harcos said of a complete effort against a quality team. “We’ve been flirting and flirting with it, to play a great game. That’s exactly what we’ve been talking about.”

Time is now for Kennedy –The Cougars are searching for their signature moment, and coach Robert Fong said the time is now with Jesuit looming.

A powerhouse program in the 1980s and ’90s and winning its last section title 10 seasons ago, Kennedy won its playoff opener 96-90 in overtime over Lincoln of Stockton and looked impressive on offense. The Cougars slogged to a 53-47 victory over West of Tracy on Friday as the offense sputtered.

Kennedy-Jesuit brings to mind spirited playoff meetings in the 1990s and 2000s. Jesuit beat Kennedy the last time the teams met in a section final, in 2000.

“We’re looking forward to this, and we can get better,” Fong said. “We haven’t played our best game yet. We hope it happens Wednesday.”

Third time the charm? – In D-I girls, Oak Ridge and Pleasant Grove meet Tuesday for a berth in the final Saturday at Sleep Train.

Oak Ridge beat Pleasant Grove twice in Delta River League play (64-40 and 52-47) and is led by cornerstone seniors Jenn Hoffman and Ali Bettencourt. Pleasant Grove is paced by Kim Schmelz, Aaliyah Pena and Brittany Nguyen. Pleasant Grove opened the playoffs with a 55-53 win over Lincoln of Stockton when Samantha Huddleston scored as time ran out. On Thursday, Pleasant Grove handed Napa just its second loss, 49-39.

Meanwhile, McClatchy and emerging frontcourt players Gigi Garcia and Destiny Lee have the daunting task of trying to topple national power St. Mary’s of Stockton, which seeks a record seventh successive title and 15th overall in various divisions. The Rams, a smaller team, beat McClatchy 76-60 on Dec. 7, which is ancient history as far as the coaches are concerned.

D-II rollers – The hottest teams reside in the D-II boys field.

Del Oro pits its 24-game winning streak against the 27-game on-court winning streak of Cosumnes Oaks in a Sleep Train semifinal. Connor Drake had 21 points and Jack Huizenga 15 in Del Oro’s 73-49 rout of what had been a red-hot Del Campo team. Cosumnes Oaks survived the field’s most dramatic quarterfinal, beating St. Mary’s 76-74 in a packed gym in Stockton as L.J. Reed, Alex Van Dyke and Matt Muldavin led the way.

In the other semifinal, top-seeded Folsom, winner of 17 straight, takes on Grant, which delivered perhaps the field’s most impressive rout when it raced past Sacramento 93-61 in the quarterfinals. Folsom is a young team that includes steady sophomore guards Jordan Ford and Jared Wall and emerging 6-foot-8 junior center Colin Russell. Those players will face versatile Grant seniors Jeremee Churchill and 6-8 Cameron Oliver, and darting and zipping junior Donovan Brown.

“Anyone can win it now,” Cosumnes Oaks coach Patrick Roth said. “That’s how close it is now.”

Dragon fire – Sacramento seeks a repeat in D-II girls but first has to clear a familiar playoff foe in Del Oro. The Dragons are rounding into good health with the return of Zonyia Cormier, who joins fellow seniors Najah Queenland and Ayanna Edwards as perhaps the section’s most formidable 1-2-3 punch.

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his “Extra Point” every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.

Read more articles by Joe Davidson

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