FAIRFIELD — The consolation prize earned by four city basketball teams for at least making it to the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals is a trip to the Northern California Regionals.
The four squads – the boys from Rodriguez and Fairfield, and the boys and girls from Vanden – each had their runs through the section tournament end in most disappointing fashion, the Mustangs and Falcons in the finals, both Vikings in the semis.
They’ve each gotten where they are with good balance, superb defense and solid coaching. Their programs each have a history in the NorCals, some of it good, some not.
Here’s a look at each of their seasons and how they’ve done in previous NorCals:
The Mustangs (26-3) are seeded sixth in Division I and host No. 11 Menlo-Atherton (18-9), a 43-41 loser to Bellarmine in the Central Coast Section Division I finals, Wednesday.
Rodriguez’s loss in the SJS Division I title game wasn’t nearly as close, the 96-68 setback at the hands of Jesuit tying the record for biggest margin of defeat in a D-I championship contest.
That doesn’t take away from what’s been a record-setting season for the green, black and white. The Mustangs have already tied the school record for wins in a season, will set a record for winning percentage regardless of how they do Tuesday and won a school-record 19 games at one point. They also earned their first victory over Fairfield.
Senior Rishod Abraham was named Monticello Empire League Player of the Year and Rodriguez won its first outright MEL title.
The Mustangs are making just their second trip into the NorCals, and their first was utterly forgettable.
Just two days after their gut-wrenching 66-65 loss to Folsom in the 2008 SJS Division I title game, Rodriguez dropped an 89-87 overtime decision in an outbracket game to Lincoln of San Francisco.
A plus in the quest for the school’s first NorCal win is the Mustangs won’t be facing the height displayed by Jesuit – a 6-foot-7 forward bringing the ball up the court, for example – with Menlo Atherton. The Bears list one player at 6-5 or taller, 6-6 senior center Oliver Bucka, while the Marauders had four, according to Maxpreps.com.
The Falcons (25-6) have the highest seeding of any city team at No. 5, but that still means they have to hit the road should they defeat No. 12 Miramonte (16-12), Wednesday. The winner plays at No. 4 Burlingame (26-4), Saturday.
Miramonte fell 72-65 to Campolindo in the North Coast Section quarterfinals.
The Falcons reached their sixth SJS championship game by topping Vanden 80-59 in the semifinals, avenging two earlier Solano County Athletic Conference defeats.
They hung tough in the finals before losing 61-50 to a much taller Modesto Christian squad.
In similar fashion to Rodriguez, Fairfield has won because of balance, quickness and a suffocating press, led by SCAC Player of the Year DeMoriaye Hart-Spikes.
Aside from their loss to Rodriguez and two setbacks against Vanden, the Falcons went from Dec. 6 to March 7 without losing to anyone outside the city.
This is Fairfield’s fifth trip to the NorCals, the first coming in 1989, the others in a four-year run starting in 2007. The Falcons are 4-5 overall with the biggest win a 62-59 upset of Rocklin in the 2008 semifinals decided by a James Lake 3-pointer at the buzzer.
After looking up all night at taller Modesto Christian players, the Falcons appear to be facing a team their own size – or shorter – Tuesday. According to Maxpreps.com, the Matadors have one player at 6-4, senior forward Drew Anderson, with one at 6-3 and four at 6-2.
The Vikings (19-11) are making their first NorCal appearance since the 1995-96 team, coached by the legendary Jim Boyd, fell in the finals to Cardinal Newman, 53-48.
If they’re to repeat previous success, they’ll have to be true road warriors. Vanden goes in as the 10th seed and opens at No. 7 Aragon of San Mateo (20-9), the CCS Division III champion, Wednesday
Vanden’s already made history, winning its first league title since Boyd’s last season as coach in 1996-97. Its two wins over Fairfield will be talked about for years, though the Falcons ended the Vikings’ hopes of winning a section title in the SJS semifinals.
Vanden is led by junior guard DeMarre Walker, runner-up to Hart-Spikes in the SCAC Player of the Year voting, and goes big with 6-7 junior forward Jihad Woods and 6-8 center Jansen Smith, and fast with 5-9 sophomore point guard Thomas Avent.
This is the ninth time Vanden’s reached the NorCals, making it to the finals in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1996. The Vikings won regional crowns in 1986 and 1990 with the former going on to win the city’s only state championship.
Vanden should have a height advantage in the NorCal opener as Aragon lists no player taller than 6-3.
The Vikings (23-6) suffered the most stunning SJS loss of all city teams, going in as the No. 1 seeds before being upset by No. 4 Florin in the semifinals. That dropped Vanden to a No. 6 seed for the NorCals and it opens by hosting No. 11 San Marin of Novato (18-11), Wednesday.
The Mustangs lost 53-51 to Analy in the NCS Division III quarterfinals, their first playoff game, and were crushed 45-21 by Justin-Siena in their regular season finale. Not many teams reach the NorCals riding a two-game losing streak.
Before its loss to Florin, the Vikings had won 11 straight games and captured their 14th straight league championship.
The Vikings have made the NorCals each of the last four seasons – the only four appearances in program history – and are 3-4, going 1-1 three times.
Vanden is led by junior guard Kayla Blair, the SCAC Player of the Year and is backed by a solid lineup, though sophomore guard and senior forward Mariah Williams are hobbled by injuries.
A win sends the Vikings to No. 3 Encinal of Alameda, the team they crushed 69-43 in last year’s first round of NorCals.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com.