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STATE BASKETBALL SCHEDULE

Note: All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday’s games

BOYS

Division 2

(11) Montgomery at (6) Whitney

Division 6

(6) Chester at (3) Anderson Valley

(5) Archbishop Hanna at (4) Stockton Christian

GIRLS

Division 2

(9) Saint Ignatius at (8) Montgomery

Division 4

(1) Cardinal Newman, first-round bye

Division 5

(11) Mariposa County at (6) Cloverdale, 6 p.m.

What the Anderson Valley boys basketball team lacks in height, it makes up for in balance.

The five starters, with only one 6-footer, average between 11 and 8 points per game. The first man off the bench averages just under 8.

Meanwhile, Chester, the Panthers’ opponent Wednesday night in the CIF NorCal Division 6 tournament, has one main guy they depend on. Their 6-6 post player scores 19 points and grabs 16 rebounds a game.

Anderson Valley, 22-6 overall and 12-0 in the North Central League III, earned a No. 3 seed for the tournament and will face the No. 6 Volcanoes, who are 22-6 and 7-1 in their league.

The game begins at 7 p.m. at Anderson Valley.

The Panthers were on a 15-game winning streak before a “speed bump” on Saturday, when they lost 59-46 to Emery in the NCS Division 6 championship game.

“They were a quick team. They were able to take our guards out of the game and it forced us to make adjustments we weren’t quite ready for,” Anderson Valley coach Luis Espinoza said.

But, he added: “I’m never afraid of a loss.”

Meaning, the loss may just have given the Panthers the spark of energy they needed for a successful run in NorCals.

Senior Cesar Soto leads the Panthers, on and off the field, Espinoza said.

Soto, at 5-9, 140, is a two-time NCL III most valuable player, as voted on by coaches.

“He can see the floor when no else knows what’s going on,” his coach said. “He can shoot, but he chooses not to. He facilitates.”

Soto leads a Panthers squad that placed five players on the all-league first or second teams this season.

While Espinoza doesn’t keep assist stats, if he did, Soto would be “off the charts.”

“He’s one of those guys every team has to prepare for,” he said.

Abraham Sanchez, also a senior, averages 11 points while Erin Perez adds almost 9 a game.

“Erin is our 3-point shooter,” Espinoza said. “We say he’s quiet but deadly. When he gets hot, he’s hot.”

The team’s selflessness and maturity adds to the balance.

“We don’t have a guy who we say has to get 20 points a game. Whoever’s hot gets the call,” he said.

Much of that comes from familiarity. Most of the team has been playing together since they were in the third or fourth grade. Several of them are related.

“They know the system so well, if I’m late because of a work responsibility, they get practice started by themselves,” Espinoza said. “It’s self-accountability.”

Jared Johnson and Tony Pardini have split duties this year after Johnson came into the season with a football injury that ultimately required surgery.

“Tony was able to come off the bench and take that role, and he flourished,” Espinoza said.

The Panthers’ youngest player, the coach’s nephew and Cesar Soto’s brother, Alejandro Soto, has added 8 points a game and a dependable rebounder inside

Anderson Valley will focus on Chester’s 6-6 junior forward Brandon Dye, who is the leader of the Volcanoes’ production.

Chester beat Liberty Christian twice in the regular season Five Star League play, but then lost by 18 points, 45-27, in the NSCIF Division 6 championship game.

In the final, Liberty held Chester to a season low point total and double-teamed Dye enough to contain him. Still, Dye ended with a team-high 10 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds.

The Panthers will try to shut him down as well, and ramp up the tempo with defensive pressure.

“We are fast,” Espinoza said. “We have a real strong defensive presence. We’re quick handed and we work the whole court.”

The Panthers alternate man and zone defense and don’t allow opposing shooters to get too comfortable, he said.

Wednesday’s game will be the first home NorCal basketball game ever played in Alexander Valley, and Espinoza said the community is excited to come out and support the Panthers. More than 100 fans made the trek to Emeryville on Saturday for the 56-49 loss.

“It’s going to be a small-town basketball affair,” Espinoza said. “Win or lose, you can’t be anything but proud of these kids.”

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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