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Riverbank, Ripon Square Off In SJS Semifinals
When Riverbank and Ripon High varsity boys' basketball teams collide at Tokay High in Lodi today, Wednesday, Feb. 29, they will be playing for much more than Trans-Valley League bragging rights.

The winner advances past the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals to the SJS finale at the Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) in Sacramento on Saturday, March 3 and earns an automatic berth to the state tournament.

A win will grant the Bruins their first trip to the section finals since the program claimed a section title in 2001.

"We've been down this road before but it's been a little while and I forgot how crazy and chaotic it can be," Riverbank coach Jeff Jennings said. "I also forgot how fun it can be."

The third-seeded Bruins (23-3 overall) cruised past Mariposa in a 63-41 playoff opener on Feb. 22 and punished Sierra Delta League champion, San Juan, in a 70-49 quarterfinal victory on Friday.

Ripon is in the midst of a five game winning streak with a 47-44 win over Highlands to start the postseason and a 52-46 upset of second-seeded Bret Harte on Friday. Since TVL champ Modesto Christian also cruised in back-to-back playoff wins, the league is represented by three of the four remaining teams in the bracket.

"One of the reasons why we are all playing so well right now is because we went through such a tough league to get here," Jennings said. "TVL teams have good coaching and these guys break down film and really challenge you to improve."

Riverbank eased past San Juan after a 21-point effort from Kenny Veliz and another 19 points from Rolaun Dunham. Alex Reynaga added a strong performance from his point guard position to lift the Bruins with treys and converted free throws.

Riverbank foreign exchange student Alberto Esteban ignited the crowd for a rush to the court as the game ended when he converted a lay-up at the final buzzer.

The Bruin crowd, including a boisterous and thunderous student cheering section (The RB Crazies) proved to be a factor in both home playoff games. They erupted when senior Robert Martinez reached for a two-handed slam-dunk and 20-point lead over the Grizzlies in the third quarter. Martinez let out a roar as he finished the dunk.

"I was just letting my anger out," Martinez said afterwards. "When we get in a rhythm and we get going we feel like nobody can stop us  like we can do whatever we want."

The Bruin highlights picked up again with six minutes to play in the game. Reynaga drilled a long three-point shot and lofted an over-the-shoulder pass to Antony Navarrette at the hoop on the next possession. Reynaga added a behind the back alley-oop to Martinez just seconds later and finished the spectacle with his own looping lay-up in a crowd of defenders late in the fourth.

"We have a couple of guys who can do those things and at this point they know what they can and can't do," Jennings said. "I have a lot of confidence in Alex and those guys to make those plays."

Reynaga finished with 17 points against Mariposa while Dunham added 16. Martinez and Veliz each scored 10 while Navarrette (five) and Markus Benson (three) also contributed scores.

Today's semifinal will begin at 9 p.m.

Ripon and Riverbank are 1-1 against each other this season, each nabbing home victories. The Indians toppled visiting Riverbank 58-48 on Feb. 14 and have won 10 of their last 11 contests.

"I think Ripon is playing pretty well right now and I think we are playing pretty well also," Jennings said. "We have to look at film and see where they hurt us and where we can hurt them."