It’s been a wild ride for the Merced College men’s basketball team.
The 2016-17 season has produced numerous highs – like turning in the program’s first winning season in a decade and beating Fresno City for the first time since the ’90s – but has been tempered by a handful of unexpected lows (losing almost the entire bench to eligibility issues).
The Blue Devil players acknowledged it was only fitting that their final regular-season game was a microcosm of that roller coaster. Knowing it needed one more win to make a thorough case for its first trip to the postseason since the 2006-07 season, MC found itself down 10 points with three minutes to play. Determined not to leave anything to chance, the Blue Devils stormed back to force overtime and pull out a 104-97 victory over Porterville.
The win coupled with a Columbia loss earned Merced second place in the Central Valley Conference and locked up its place in the NorCal playoffs. The Blue Devils’ reward was the 14 seed and a first-round trip to No. 3 Yuba at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We knew coming in that we had to get that win,” said Deonta Woodard, who scored a team-high 27 points in the victory. “Porterville knew it too and wanted to deny us the playoffs. We were down 10 with three minutes to go, and we just kind of turned it on. We got a few stops and executed on offense. Once we got the momentum, there was no doubt we were going to finish them off in overtime.”
Yuba (26-2) is certainly a tough welcome back to the postseason for the Blue Devils (17-10). The 49ers went undefeated to capture the Bay Valley Conference title, with its only losses on the year coming to state No. 1 San Francisco City and a team from Northern Idaho.
Yuba is the state’s top-ranked defensive team, yielding just 54.9 points per game. It’s a classic case of something has to give with MC averaging 84.1 ppg, seventh in the state.
“Obviously we’d like to be facing a higher seed, but I don’t know that getting Yuba is such a bad thing for us,” sophomore guard Jose Gonzalez said. “Playing the top teams in the state has brought the best out of us. We lost to San Francisco by three points. We beat Fresno City on the road.
“The sophomores on this team have worked really hard to get to this point. Last season, I think we were all a bit numb when everything started to go wrong. This year relit a lot of guys’ fires. We’re pleased we made the playoffs, but we’re not just happy to be here. We want to hang around for a while.”
The MC men aren’t the only team on campus ready to make a playoff run. Despite a losing record for the season, the Lady Devils’ strength of schedule helped them earn a play-in game at No. 16 Reedley tonight. Tip is 7 p.m.
Seventeenth-seeded Merced (14-15) dropped both regular-season meetings against Reedley (14-11) in overtime. The CVC rivals will battle for a trip to No. 1 Sierra on Saturday night.
Looking for a three-peat
The road to a third consecutive California Pacific Conference title and a trip to the NAIA Division II Tournament likely always ran through Antelope Valley.
The UC Merced women’s basketball team will just be squaring off against the Pioneers earlier than it would have liked. A fourth-quarter collapse against Simpson in the Bobcats’ regular-season finale dropped them into the fourth seed in the Cal Pac Tournament and a semifinal matchup against No. 1 AVU.
The two squads will square off in the first semifinal on Saturday night in Vallejo. Tip is set for 5:30 p.m. The Cal Pac Tournament has been at Cal Maritime the last two seasons, and UCM cut down the nets both times.
The Bobcats (15-11) split the season series with Antelope Valley, with each squad picking up a road win. The winner will play in the Cal Pac title game on Monday.
Having a record year
The UC Merced women’s basketball team didn’t have the finish to the regular season it was looking for, dropping three of its last five game, but the squad has turned in some of the greatest statistical campaigns in school history.
In addition to setting a team record with 15 victories, the Bobcats have a new single-season steals leader (Mia Belvin, 76), single-season assists leader (Courtney Danna, 111) and single-season blocks leader (Brittany Martinez, 45).
Danna and Martinez have also set the program’s all-time marks for assists with (277) and blocks (106), respectively.