Eighteen weeks of practice and games have led to this: the Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs, a two-week sprint to the championship rounds at Sleep Train Arena.
The girls tip off Tuesday, the boys Wednesday.
For the boys, the top three Division I seeds – Folsom (24-3), Modesto Christian (26-1) and Sheldon (20-4) – are so skilled in the backcourt and effective in the frontcourt that they’ve been separated by only a few points.
Folsom beat Modesto Christian 53-51 in the Bulldogs’ season opener, then edged Sheldon 79-78 four days later. Folsom’s last loss came against Sierra Foothill League rival Woodcreek, 58-56 in overtime Feb. 10.
Since falling to Folsom, Modesto Christian hasn’t lost. And since the Folsom game, Sheldon hasn’t lost to a Northern California team. Modesto Christian has won 26 consecutive games, the section’s longest streak among upper-division teams and second in Northern California behind Liberty Ranch (27-0). Sheldon has won 13 in a row.
Folsom is led by two-time Sacramento Bee Player of the Year Jordan Ford (18.8 points), his backcourt mates Tre Finch (11.5), Jared Wall (9.8) and Alec Andrews (7.5) and center Mason Forbes (10.8). Modesto Christian’s top players are guard Christian Ellis (11.4) and center Robinson Idehen (16.9 points, 8.7 rebounds). Sheldon is led by guards Isaiah Brooks (15.1), Elishja Duplechan (14.3) and Devin Greene (8.4) and guard-forward Drew Cobb, a stopper on defense.
Fourth-seeded Jesuit (23-4), which lost two close games to Sheldon in Delta League play, features steady guards Ethan Pangelinan (11.3 points), Matt Ehrlich (10.9), Jake Virga (8.7) and Isaiah Rutherford (5.0) and forward Malik Duffy (16.4 points, 10.2 rebounds).
Fifth-seeded Woodcreek (19-8) features the section’s top recruit, 6-foot-10 sophomore center Jordan Brown, who is averaging 26.7 points and 15.0 rebounds.
“It’s going to be fun, night in and night out,” Woodcreek coach Paul Hayes said of the Division I field. “So many talented teams and battle-tested. All ready to go.”
These programs have a tradition of success, too. Folsom owns four section titles since 2008, Modesto Christian has 17 overall in various divisions, Sheldon has five since 2007, and Jesuit has nine overall. Woodcreek reached the NorCal Division I championship game last season.
Division I girls – St. Mary’s of Stockton (23-0), the nation’s top-ranked team, heads the field. The Rams have won 16 section titles, 14 since 2000. Second-seeded Oak Ridge (26-1) has won 23 consecutive games, and No. 3 St. Francis (23-4) has won 10 in a row, last losing to Antelope 69-55 on Jan. 16. No. 4 Folsom (19-7) is led by the region’s top girls recruit, 6-foot sophomore guard McKenzie Forbes (13.5 points, 6.9 rebounds).
Defending CIF State Division I champion McClatchy was a surprisingly low seventh seed despite avenging its lone loss to a section opponent, Division II contender Sacramento. The Lions (22-5), ranked second by The Bee, open against No. 10 seed Cosumnes Oaks and could play Oak Ridge, The Bee’s top-ranked team, in the second round.
Et cetera – The West Campus girls, the No. 2 seed in Division IV, are led by two national recruits: 5-9 sophomore guard Kiara Jefferson (13.1 points) and 5-7 junior point guard Namiko Adams (14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds). The Warriors (21-6) have won 10 in a row and haven’t lost to a section opponent since falling 58-54 to Antelope on Dec. 29.
▪ The Antelope boys (20-7), the No. 2 seed in Division II, feature senior Kai Tease, a 6-1 guard headed to Howard. Tease is averaging 19.0 points, and his career total is 1,191. The Titans won Division II titles in 2012 and 2013. The top seed is Sacramento, led by four-year starters Christian Terrell and Solomon Young.
▪ The Antelope girls (26-1) are the top seed in Division II, and sisters Nadia and Nia Johnson are set to play after a recent car accident left them shaken but otherwise fine. Nadia is averaging 13.4 points and Nia 12.9. The Titans also feature Angelica Baylon (14.2 points) and Bailey Hawkins, known for her defense and shot blocking.