By Joe Davidson
For years, the Bay Area hovered above the Sacramento region in men's - they're men at this stage of the season - basketball NorCal playoff action.
In Tuesday night's openers, the region stood tall, with the real challenges looming. Franklin and Granite Bay prevailed in Division I, Antelope and Woodcreek in D-II and Center in D-III in an impressive collective showing.
Franklin went to San Mateo and bounced Serra 57-54 behind brothers Ike and Chuks Iroegbu and the steady coaching hand of Jesse Formaker, who wasn't sure how fired up his crew would be after a tough section semifinal loss to Jesuit. He found out.
Now he'll find out what his team has when it takes on top-seeded Castro Valley (28-1) on Thursday in a second-round game at Washington High in Fremont.
Granite Bay, stinging from a buzzer-beater loss to Sheldon in the section semifinals, beat longtime state power McClymonds of Oakland 56-55 in a dramatic game and now plays on Thursday at No. 2 De La Salle, the other NorCal superpower.
Also coming Thursday, Sheldon, seeded third, plays host to Santa Teresa of Santa Rosa, which beat Washington of San Francisco. Jesuit, which fell to Sheldon in the section finals, plays at Oakland on Thursday.
In D-II, Antelope held off Northgate 68-62 and now plays at No. 3 Chico (27-1), a team that beat the Titans in early December by 12 points. Chico is led by standout scorer Sterling Smith, who lit up Antelope for 30 on 14 of 17 shooting in the first meeting, when John Winters was not yet in uniform for Antelope. Winters, a superb talent, had 24 against Northgate.
Woodcreek, a last-second victim to Antelope in the section semifinals, bounced back strong under coach Paul Hayes to bounce out a familiar foe in St. Francis of Mountain View, 55-54. The Timberwolves now play at No. 2 Montgomery of Santa Rosa (28-2).
Also in D-II, Cordova lost to Las Lomas, and we're left to wonder if that's the end of the line for classy coach Bob Jones, at the Big Red helm since the 1984-85 season. He has hinted strongly that this would be it, and he would be bowing out with on of his best teams.
In D-III, Center, a tough section finals loser to Sacramento, belted Paradise 68-48 and now takes on No. 2 San Marin of Novato.
D-III top seed Sacramento will take on Foothill of Palo Cedro, which beat Analy of Sebastapool 79-59 in an opener.
Thursday games are at 7 p.m. NorCal semifinal games are Saturday at home sites, also at 7 p.m. with the NorCal finals for Divisions I, II and III set for Power Balance Pavilion on March 19.