Turlock and Hilmar high schools learned their postseason fates on Sunday, both earning home games to start the 2022 Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Seventh-seeded Turlock (6-4) will host No. 10 Edison (Stockton) this Friday at Joe Debely Stadium in the Division I bracket, while No. 4 Hilmar (7-3) earned a first-round bye and will take on an opponent to be determined on Nov. 11 at McSweeney Field in Division V.
The top four seeds in divisions I through VI earned first-round byes.
A victory Friday would earn the Bulldogs a trip to Stockton for a date with No. 2 St. Mary’s (10-0), a team that owns wins this season over Central Catholic and De La Salle.
“I think we’re getting hot at the right time,” said Turlock head coach James Peterson. “This was our goal — to play in the in the postseason. We wish we could’ve finished up against Downey and taken the CCAL title, but our goal all season has been to win a section championship.”
Assistant section commissioner Will DeBoard, a former sportswriter who has seen his fair share of playoff football, gives Turlock a puncher’s chance.
“Turlock could be dangerous in that bracket,” said DeBoard. “They’ll certainly be an underdog if they get past Edison, but anybody in that bracket can be dangerous. They’ve all had their moments.”
One of those moments for Turlock was a 14-7 win over Rocklin in the season opener. That win takes on added significance when you consider top-seeded Folsom beat Rocklin by the same score in Sierra Foothill League action last week.
Hilmar closed the regular season with a relatively easy two-week stretch against Modesto Christian and Riverbank. The first-round bye pretty much guarantees that Hilmar will be as fresh as any team in the bracket. Certainly fresher than Trans-Valley League foe Escalon, the No. 5 seed that likely will be Hilmar’s opponent on Nov. 11.
Yellowjackets’ coach Frank Marques believes any potential Escalon-Hilmar rematch should’ve come deeper into the playoffs.
“I just think that that the TVL doesn’t get the credit for how hard of a league it is, and has traditionally been,” said Marques. “And I don’t think we got enough credit for our preseason schedule.”
DeBoard said he understands Hilmar’s frustration.
“This was by far the lengthiest discussion that we had,” said DeBoard, referring to the seeding committee’s back-and-forth over the D-V bracket. "Whoever ended up being No. 4, we knew they were not going to be super happy because the four was going to have an extremely tough second-round matchup.”
Had Hilmar been seeded first, second or third, it could’ve avoided a potential rematch with Escalon until the semifinal or final round. For that to have happened, though, No. 1 Sutter (10-0), No. 2 Sonora (8-2) and/or No. 3 Liberty Ranch (10-0) would’ve had to be seeded beneath the Yellowjackets.
Hilmar lost to Sonora 28-20 on Sept. 2, so that wasn’t an option. And the seeding committee was loathe to drop a 10-0 team beneath a team with three losses.
Then again, neither Sutter or Liberty Ranch defeated a single team with a positive CalPreps rating. All their opponents’ rankings were below zero. Hilmar’s Trans-Valley League foes Hughson and Escalon, along with preseason opponents Sonora (the Mother Lode League champion), Patterson (the Central California Conference champ and No. 2 seed in D-III), Los Banos (the Western Athletic Conference champion) and Palma of Salinas (the Pacific Coast League-Gabilan champion) all had positive rating figures.
Though Marques thought his team deserved better, he was pragmatic about the perceived slight.
“Hey, we’ve got to beat ’em all eventually, anyway," he said.