There was a feeling after Davis High's 67-63 victory over Oak Ridge on Friday night that the home team was playing for more than Spartan pride.
They also were carrying with them the pride of the Panthers, Patriots, Eagles, Knights, Vikings and maybe even the Jaguars-to-be.
The Modesto Metro Conference, thanks to its 46-65 record in non-league games — with many losses to schools in lower divisions — was the lowest-ranked Division I league in the Sac-Joaquin Section entering the playoffs.
The Davis players are not only tired of hearing about the MMC's relative overall weakness, they're on a mission of sorts to debunk those assumptions.
Never miss a local story.
"We take in what we hear, but we know we're good," said Davis forward Kory Johnson. "We play travel ball with the top players and go to Las Vegas and we know we can play with any of those guys.
"Me and all my teammates play against competition way harder than this, so we don't really get nervous or scared in the playoffs."
The Spartans, 24-4 and winners of 19 straight games, will have a chance tonight to strike another blow for the MMC when they battle Central California Conference champion Merced at the University of the Pacific.
The section released the start times on Saturday for the next round of the playoffs, and local fans will have the convenience of settling in for back-to-back games involving Stanislaus District teams.
Tonight, Turlock will battle Rodriguez at 5:30 p.m., and the Davis-Merced game will follow. The winners of those games advance to Division I semifinal action Thursday at Arco Arena and also earn a berth in the NorCal regionals.
All the teams still alive in Divisions 2-5 already have punched their tickets to the NorCal playoffs.
Ripon Christian's followers will get their Division 5 double-dip tonight at Galt, as the Knights' girls meet Turlock Christian at 5:30 and the RC boys follow immediately against Bradshaw Christian.
On Wednesday, Modesto Christian's girls will take on Christian Brothers at 7:30 p.m. at Tokay High, with the MC boys meeting Calaveras in a game optimistically scheduled to start at 9 p.m. on the same floor.
Wednesday's Division 4 opening game at Tokay will be a 4 p.m. girls' game between Argonaut and Colfax.
The Davis-Merced match is an interesting one since the teams are similar in makeup. Neither has a true center, so the battle down low between Johnson and Bears' post player Brian Cooksey — both very active players — will be worth watching.
The teams met in November in a CIF Foundation game. Merced won that game handily, but Johnson did not play for the Spartans.
Also, the Bears like to press, and Davis exploited Oak Ridge's full-court pressure for easy points in Friday's first-round victory.
"Oak Ridge extended its pressure and that helped us stay in the game, but when they got out of the pressure in the fourth quarter we ran our stuff and scored," said Davis coach Dan Pacheco. "If you back off and wait for us, we'll run some offense, so you have to take your poison."
When teams reach this level, the venue itself often becomes a factor. The Tokay and Galt sites are still very much high school gyms, so they shouldn't provide a challenge in Divisions 4-5.
But UOP's Spanos Center very much has the feel of an arena, and players not used to that atmosphere can find themselves battling a new set of nerves.
"UOP won't be a new atmosphere for us," Pacheco said. "We have camps there every year. The one thing we will be bringing there is a belief we can win. I think when you have the belief and trust in each other, you always have a shot."
With a starting time around 7:30, there will be ample time for fans of the other MMC schools to make the trip to Stockton. In the past, fans of other Modesto schools have turned out in strong numbers to cheer for their MMC brethren.
And why not? In the big picture, fair or not, they're all battling the same MMC stigma.
"I know that people don't have respect for us," Davis guard Edwin Castallanos said after Friday's win. "But it's up to us to earn that respect, and that's what we're doing right now, what we did (Friday), by beating Oak Ridge."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.