FAIRFIELD — The Rodriguez High boys basketball team has been outrunning teams all season.
If the Mustangs can do it one more time they will bring home their first Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Second-seeded Rodriguez (26-2) takes on No. 1 Jesuit of Carmichael (27-3) in the SJS Division I championship game at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena, Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m..
“The key in this particular game right here,” said second-year Mustangs coach Nate Rankin, “I think (is) our speed, of course, getting up and down the floor, keep the game simple.”
Simply put, the Marauders, one of the section’s traditional powers, are taller at every position. They’re topped by 6-foot-9 senior forward Brady Anderson, who’s averaging 7.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, according to Maxpreps.com, to 6-7 senior forward Lake Lutes (17.4, 7.8) to leading scorer Isaiah Bailey, a 6-3 junior guard (19.7, 5.3).
“Looking at Jesuit, across the board we may be giving up 5 1/2 to 6 inches,” Rankin said. “It is what it is. The guys know we just play basketball. It is what it is. . . . When people play us they don’t expect what we have. I’m sure Jesuit is doing their homework.”
What the Mustangs have is speed and balance, led by Solano County Athletic Conference Player of the Year Rishod Abraham, a junior wing who’s averaging 17.9 points per game.
He’s joined by junior point guard Kyle Williams (11.0), senior guard Armani Reed (10.8), senior wing Tim Moore Jr. (8.2), senior guard Keanu Williams (7.0) and junior guard Courtlund Mclean (6.4).
Senior DeAndre Scott has given the Mustangs a solid defensive presence, while senior wing Jourdan Skillman and junior wing Jordan Badger, play bigger than their 6-2 listings and Kesean Graham has provided valuable versatility.
Junior forward Torian Varner was solid in the middle before re-aggravating a football injury that ended his season. Roebi Balancio and Saud Suddozai have been called up from the junior varsity team.
“Our job as coaches, we don’t play the game, we prepare the kids to play the games,” Rankin said. “They really bought into it.”
The Mustangs have already matched the school record for wins set by the 2007-08 squad, which went 26-7 and reached the SJS title game – including a 69-65 win over Jesuit in the quarterfinals – where they fell on a last-second shot to Folsom.
Regardless of what happens Friday or in the upcoming NorCal Regionals, Rodriguez will set a school record for highest winning percentage. The current mark is .862 by the 2008-09 team, which went 25-4.
Despite falling behind in the first half of numerous games this season, the Mustangs have managed to rally in all but two of their games. While Rankin appreciates that trait, he hopes his team won’t need to employ it on Saturday.
“It definitely helps as far as confidence knowing they’ve been in places like this before, but we don’t want to remain in those situations,” the coach said. “We don’t panic, we don’t panic. Going into the third period we’ve been blessed to be able to make adjustments. Granted, the fourth period we haven’t had to do that. If you look at our track record, we’re definitely a third-period team. As a coach, I’m not comfortable with that.”
According to Rankin, the Mustangs are comfortable playing in Sleep Train, where they again turned in a solid second half to defeat Merced 73-68 in Wednesday’s semifinals.
“It’s just another place to play,” Rankin said. “Granted, you have to respect that NBA players play there. It’s the same floor Shaq (O’Neal) has been on, the same floor Kobe (Bryant) has been on. That’s fine, but it’s a basketball court we have to play on.”
The Marauders aren’t exactly just another team – they’ve won a total of eight SJS – but the Mustangs enter the game with no fear.
“When you see them, because of their height they’re so close to the rim its ridiculous,” Rankin said of the opponents. “We’ve faced teams with two or three taller guys. Here’s the deal: we only play whats in front of us, we don’t look down the road, just play what’s in front of us. . . . There are going to be some tough matchups to deal with, but we don’t back down from anyone. We do what we do.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.