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Boys Basketball - Bruins Open Playoffs Today At Calaveras
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It all comes down to this.

Today, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m., Riverbank High's varsity boys basketball team takes on host Calaveras in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

The winner of this No. 8 seed (Calaveras) vs. No. 9 seed (Riverbank) game will move on to likely face top-seeded Modesto Christian in Crusader territory on Friday.

Riverbank's first round game is certainly winnable; especially considering the Bruins toppled the Redskins to win their host tournament on Dec. 4 of last year. But being just one game away from a Modesto Christian team that has won 11 straight section titles isn't exactly favorable bracket positioning.

Riverbank challenged MC in Trans-Valley League play during an 84-79 thriller in Crusader favor on Jan. 28, but was hoping for a postseason rematch a little deeper in the bracket.

"After that last MC game we felt like we could and should have won, and after that game our guys were saying let's play them again in the playoffs," Jennings said. "Obviously I would prefer that to be at Arco (section finals) than in the second round."

Jennings certainly isn't looking past Calaveras, but he admits it's hard not to think of MC when the Crusaders loom just one bracket spot above the Bruins.

A pre-playoff formula last week courtesy of Escalon coach Martin Louro gave Jennings a good idea that he would see either Calaveras or No. 7 seed Capital Christian in the playoffs' opening round. Since Capital Christian was two hours away at Lindhurst, Jennings made the trek to scout Calaveras during their 63-59 win over Bret Harte at nearby Angels Camp.

The game gave Jennings a good look at some match-ups his players will face and the Redskins' tempo changes since their early December meeting.

"It gave me a chance to look at how we will want to defend them, but it comes to down to execution - offensively and defensively," Jennings said. "We kind of already knew what to expect from them, but they do a good job of running their stuff, and we are definitely going to have our hands full."

Junior guard Gino Alberts and senior center Garrett Cline, who combined for 34 points against Riverbank in the December meeting, lead the Redskins offensively. The Redskins went 9-6 in the potent Mother Lode League, which produced four playoff qualifiers.

Riverbank beat Ripon (No. 6 seed) in a 57-56 thriller on Feb. 15, and added a 59-35 win at Hughson to close the regular season 17-7 overall, 6-6 in the TVL.

Zack Gonzales scored 27 on Ripon and 19 on Hughson, while Rolaun Dunham scorched the Indians for 17 and the Huskies for another 13. Robert Martinez tallied 10 points in the Hughson win as well.

Today's game will mark the first time these Riverbank players have seen a postseason contest, but it won't be an unfamiliar setting. The Bruins beat Oakdale and Grace Davis in big road tournament games, and ousted the likes of Ripon, No. 2 Summerville and Division IV qualifier, Sonora, in front of big crowds.

"We have had some playoff-type atmosphere games, and we are hoping that has prepared us," Jennings said. "But with 16- and 17-year-old kids you never know."