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Down And Out Bruins Drop Playoff Opener In Road Game
A 15-2 rally to end the second quarter gave Riverbank High's varsity boys basketball team a one-point lead at the break, but late Calaveras free throws gave the host Redskins enough room to sneak out with a 74-66 win over the Bruins on Feb. 23, in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

Riverbank saw leading scorer Zack Gonzales re-injure his ankle just a minute and a half into the contest, though the Bruin senior hobbled to stay on the court to finish his final prep game in Bruin uniform.

The team was also without head coach Jeff Jennings, who spent the evening with his wife after the tragic passing of his brother-in-law that very morning.

"We were prepared, and it was a game I felt we should have won," Jennings said. "We made a lot of strides from last year to this year, and now we need to take another jump from this year to next year."

Riverbank exploded onto the Central Valley basketball scene this season after a tremendous December gave the team two tournament titles and an 11-1 start to the year. Seven of those wins were against eventual 2011 playoff qualifiers, setting the pace for a D-IV best rating of non-league wins and the Bruins ultimate ninth place seed into the playoffs.

The team stumbled in Trans-Valley League play after Gonzales saw a severe ankle sprain limit his action in the first half of TVL play. The team rallied to big wins in the second half of league, but a costly defeat to Hilmar forced the Bruins to open the 2011 postseason on the road.

There, Gonzales suffered another ankle injury, and gritted through three tough quarters as his team struggled to match a Calaveras program with a dominant post game.

Freshman Rolaun Dunham sparked a heroic comeback with a huge late trey, but his 17 points weren't enough to lift the Bruins passed clutch Skins' shots from the foul line.

"For a freshman in that situation to rise to the challenge speaks well to his future," Jennings said. "We have got a lot of guys in the wings who are putting in their time to be a big part of this program."

Riverbank will return four of their five starters for next year, though seniors Gonzales, Manuel Jimenez, Ivan Manriquez, Rodrigo Silva, Carlos Harvey and Wacey Vernon will certainly be missed.

Gonzales, a three-year varsity Bruin starter, saw injuries prevent the career finale he was dreaming of, but made waves throughout the Trans-Valley League after high-flying performances garnered the attention of multiple defenders for season after season.

He was the lone Bruin to nab first team All TVL honors from Saturday's All League meeting. Junior point guard Alex Reynaga also nabbed honorable mention status from the league.

Jennings said he will give basketball players a few weeks off before kicking off the official start to next season. The team will start with workouts in the gym and weight room, and transition into a summer-league season that should see over 40 games of action. It's the type of off-season preparation that made this year's unit so good.

"It was a great experience to do so well in the preseason, get into the playoffs and have the success that we did this year," Jennings said. "Now we just have to let other guys come in and develop their identities."