At this point of the high school boys' basketball season, when the elite squads remain, finding reasons to stay motivated shouldn't be a problem.
But that doesn't mean that teams like St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart Cathedral and Archbishop Riordan won't be able to find a little extra incentive when they compete this postseason.
The three San Francisco schools, members of the elite West Catholic Athletic League, will each face a unique opportunity in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Riordan will square off against Burlingame tonight at Santa Clara High School in the quarterfinal round of the Open Division, which matches the premier teams in the region. The seventh-seeded Crusaders, who are 16-9, will be reacquainted with the Panthers' USF-bound guard Frankie Ferrari, who played for Riordan last season before transferring back to Burlingame.
"I keep telling our guys that we're playing a team, not one guy," Crusaders coach Rich Buckner said. "I'm trying to temper their feelings, but I think they'll probably approach this game with a little more focus, just because of the personal circumstances."
Although Sacred Heart Cathedral won't have the same familiar stakes facing Riordan, the Fightin' Irish still have plenty to prove in their CCS Open Division contest against Half Moon Bay today at Piedmont Hills High School. The fourth-seeded Irish entered the season with high expectation as the two-time defending Northern California Division III champs, but the team struggled through an up-and-down year. After starting 8-1, the Irish played .500 ball for the rest of the year, limping to a fifth-place finish in the WCAL (although the team did advance to the finals of the league's postseason playoffs.)
"I think we probably lacked that consistency you'd expect from a team that's experienced a lot of success and has some senior leadership," coach Darrell Barbour said. "The playoffs could be our chance to show that we're still an elite team."
While there are motivating factors for both SHC and Riordan, neither squad will likely carry a chip quite as large as the one on St. Ignatius' proverbial shoulder. The Wildcats beat regular-season WCAL champ Archbishop Mitty twice and finished the WCAL with an 11-3 mark.
However, the Wildcats were upset by St. Francis in the first round of the WCAL playoffs and then were passed over by a selection committee to play in the CCS Open Division. Because section rules prohibit more than three teams from a single enrollment classification playing in the Open Division, St. Ignatius was left out in the cold in favor of Serra, Mitty and the South Bay public school Leigh.
As a result, instead of getting an automatic advancement to the Northern California playoffs, like schools in the Open Division, St. Ignatius will be opening its postseason with a win-or-go-home scenario in the Division II playoffs where they'll need to reach the D-II title game to reach the state playoffs.
St. Ignatius faces off against Sobrato on Saturday at Santa Clara High School.
"Our guys are definitely a little disappointed not to be playing in the Open Division," Wildcats coach Tim Reardon said. "We feel like we're one of the top five or six teams in the section, so I think we'll be competing in these playoffs with the aim of proving that."
The Wildcats could also face a potential rematch in the championship game against the last team to defeat them, St. Francis. In addition, St. Ignatius senior defensive stopper Tristan Wentworth recently had a cast removed on his broken wrist and could be cleared to play in a week.
"He's a huge part of our team," said Reardon. "So I think the guys will be playing with the knowledge that if we keep winning, he can get back out on the court and help us out."