FAIRFIELD — Call it Super Tuesday, high school boys basketball style.
When the final horn sounds Tuesday night, as many as four teams – Rodriguez, Armijo, Vacaville and Wood – may be able to call themselves Monticello Empire League champions.
Rodriguez (12-12, 7-2 MEL) has already clinched a piece of the title and must win at Vacaville (11-15, 6-3 MEL) to be the outright champ. Should the Bulldogs pull a mild upset, they along with Armijo (13-7, 6-3 MEL), which hosts Vintage (2-21, 0-9 MEL), and Wood (16-10, 6-3 MEL), which plays at Napa (9-17, 1-8 MEL), can also also claim parts of the crown with victories, Tuesday.
“I’ve never actually been involved in or seen a league where all four teams beat up on each other and tied for first place,” Armijo coach Carly Perales said. “I’ve been involved in co-championships, which are more common. To have four teams that are able to beat up on each other and end up coming down to the wire having all four tying is pretty surprising.”
“That’s a little weird,” said Wood coach Mark Wudel, “that four out of six teams in the league can be 7-3. . . . It’s kind of weird to get it like that. Everything has to fall into place for that to happen.”
In the past, only the top 16 teams and co-champions qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, but a new rule this season also admits winners of 15 or more games who wouldn’t have made it otherwise.
With that change in mind, Rodriguez has already qualified as no worse than a co-champion, while Wood has made it as a 16-game winner.
Armijo was 19th in the most recent Division I power ratings and has gone 2-0 since then.
“I’ve been doing the math and crunched some numbers,” Perales said. “We were sitting at 19th (in the power ratings) prior to last week. We needed some teams ahead of us to lose and win our games. Some of those things have happened. There are some other (crucial) games around the section Tuesday night. We need to win our game and see what happens.”
Vacaville, however, knows it needs a win on Tuesday.
“Coming into league, we knew we had to at least get a piece of the title to get into the playoffs,” Bulldogs coach Duane Kamman said. “We’re disappointed we lost the other night to Wood. We had a 17-point lead (before losing 61-49). We could be playing for the outright title, that’s the disappointing thing. We’re a good team and we’ll take what we can get.”
Rodriguez outscored Vacaville by 10 points in each of the first two quarters when they played on Jan. 22, only to have the Bulldogs outscore the Mustangs 18-6 in the fourth quarter to make them sweat out a 77-70 victory.
“We had a lot of turnovers in the second quarter the last time, we got a little away from what we like to do,” Kamman said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue those things and play our type of game. We had one bad quarter against Rodriguez, one bad quarter against Wood. . . . It’s a matter of playing 32 minutes of solid basketball.”
Rodriguez coach Nate Rankin agreed. “The key for us (Tuesday) is to come out and execute what we do on both sides of the ball – we have to, no question about it,” he said. “That’s why our kids have to focus on both sides of the ball. It’s tough because there’s so much community support up there. It’s going to be tough, but it’s part of the game. We’ve got to be focused, got to be on (our game).”
Armijo appears to have the easiest road by playing a two-win team at home to close the regular season, but Perales and the Indians, who won the first meeting 61-45 in Napa, are taking nothing for granted.
“All I can say is we’re focusing on the game we have control over,” Perales said. “There’s nothing we can do over the other action. Our team is competing for a playoff spot. It’s the seniors’ last game at home. We want to make sure we finish out the right way.”
Napa’s lone win in MEL play is over crosstown rival Vintage, but Wudel is likewise taking a cautious approach.
“Napa doesn’t have a great record but they play everyone tough, so it’s not going to be an easy game,” he said.
Wudel added that he’s not counting on a four-way tie, though he wishes the SJS had foreseen the league’s depth when coming up with its relatively low 6.0 league strength rating for the MEL, 13th among the Section’s 27 leagues.
“It’s pretty tough having all three things that have to happen (for a four-way tie),” Wudel said. “It’s a real balanced league. Unfortunately, the (Sac-Joaquin) Section didn’t think it was a very strong league, but it just goes to show, when they do those (league strength) ratings, it’s real difficult to give a league a number when they don’t know how good or bad they are.”
Things are only slightly less muddled in the Solano County Athletic Conference. Fairfield (15-11, 7-2 SCAC) is tied with Bethel (13-12, 7-2 SCAC) for first place with the Falcons entertaining Vanden (16-10, 5-4 SCAC), while the Jaguars play at Vallejo (7-18, 2-7 SCAC).
“We’ve just got to play with a sense of urgency, realizing what’s at stake,” Fairfield coach Tony Bryant said. “Vanden is a tremendously tough team. They cause a lot of problems for us because of their size.”
Fairfield won the first meeting 70-67 at Jim Boyd Gym, while Bethel downed Vallejo 77-67.
As for the girls? Armijo and Vanden have already nailed down outright – and repeat – MEL and SCAC titles, respectively, but will playing for playoff positioning, Tuesday. The Indians travel to Vintage, while the Vikings host Fairfield.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.