Heading into this month, Hughson High was in fourth place and barely a whisper in the Trans-Valley League playoff discussion.
The Huskies knew they had talent, yet they found themselves looking up at the contenders — Riverbank, Ripon and Escalon.
Five straight wins later, a streak that encompasses wins over every other team in the league, the Huskies have not only found their way into the race, they've also found their bark.
Monday's 2-0 home victory over Ripon shuffled the TVL standings in the same manner as did last week's 2-1 win over Riverbank.
Riverbank, which rebounded Monday with a win over Modesto Christian, is 9-2 in TVL play.
Ripon, coming off a rare win against Escalon, is 8-3. Hughson's win slides it into third place with Escalon at 7-4, with the Huskies visiting the Cougars on Wednesday.
When regular season play ends on Nov. 2, only three TVL teams will go on to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
"I think the kids are focused on that playoff spot," said Hughson coach Jose Ramos said. "They want to be there and they're stepping it up. We needed this one, and we're going to have to win Wednesday."
The occupant of the TVL driver's seat has shuffled twice in the last week.
Riverbank held that spot entering last week before dropping twin 2-1 decisions to Ripon and Hughson.
"We started watching the game," Riverbank coach Martin Gonzalez said of the loss to Hughson. "We're not a team of watchers. We didn't start the league season 8-0 to sit here and watch the ball. We still have control if we can right the ship."
With the Bruins losing two in a row, Ripon's five-game win streak — including wins at Riverbank and Escalon last week — allowed the Indians to slide in behind the wheel. But that was before Monday's loss.
"We had a really good week last week and perhaps today you saw a little bit of a letdown," said Ripon coach Jamie DeBruyn.
"That was not the team we had on the field the last couple of weeks. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot today, but this won't be decided until the last Monday."
Since only Modesto Christian and Ripon Christian are out of the race and the top four continue to beat up on each other, DeBruyn has put this unfocused TVL race in it's proper frame.
"With some combinations, we could end up in a three-way tie for first," Ramos said. "I guess we'd flip a coin at that point."
But once the postseason arrives, could this be the year the TVL sends a team deep into the playoffs? In recent years, the league's postseason success has been limited, especially when running into the Western Athletic Conference powers.
"If we're going to make a run, this is the year to do it," DeBruyn said. "I think Riverbank is the most talented team in the TVL. Hughson is scrappy and is playing better as a unit, and we usually play better than this."
Modesto Metro Conference
Modesto High (8-1-2, 15-1-5) has won six straight games, including wins last week over Johansen (3-1) and Downey (2-1) last week to assume the top spot in the MMC. The Panthers have outscored the opposition 29-2 during the run and meet Beyer and Enochs this week.
Central California Conference
Merced and Golden Valley played to a 1-1 tie on Monday, which certainly benefits Merced. The Bears are atop the league at (7-0-2, 14-3-3) while second-place Golden Valley (7-2-1, 14-2-2) needed a win to stay alive for the CCC title. The rivals do not meet again in the regular season.
Valley Oak League
Perennial power Oakdale (5-5-1, 12-6-2) struggled through a two-loss week, dropping 3-1 decisions at Ceres and Sierra. The Mustangs' stumble makes it a four-team race for three spots, with Central (9-0-2, 12-2-4) continuing to lead Sierra (7-1-3, 12-6-3,) Ceres (6-2-1, 8-3-2,) and East Union (6-3-1, 9-6-2.)
Western Athletic Conference
Patterson (8-1, 13-5-2 heading into Monday's game at Livingston) scored a win and made a statement on Thursday with a 5-2 victory over second-place Hilmar (8-2, 11-5-5,) avenging its lone conference loss.
The cream of the league, LeGrand and Delhi, played to a 2-2 draw last week. Delhi (6-1-2, 7-3-2) needed a win in that home game to pull even with the Bulldogs (8-0-2, 8-5-3,) but the Hawks will get another shot when the teams meet again Oct. 28 in LeGrand.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.