First off, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there. I certainly have lots to be thankful for this year, and I look forward to spending tomorrow with my happy family.
Now, down to business. One of my favorite blogs is called You Can't Predict Baseball. It essentially details how random the game of baseball is from a statistical perspective: No matter how hard you try, you're not going to be able to figure out what's coming next in a baseball season.
It's football season, but I know exactly how that feels.
A miserable Quarterfinal Friday for the predictions column has dipped me well below my 80 percent benchmark for the year and has me desperate for more opportunities to atone. With each Central Section division down to its final four, I'm going to predict every game, not just those involving Kern County. This is probably just an exercise in more bad predictions, but it's fun.
Before we get to that, though, let's pick at the scab that was last week.
The good: Hmmm. I did say Liberty would be close to Clovis with a chance to win, but I didn't pull the trigger. I was also very close to final scores on Wasco over Arvin, Independence over South and BCHS over Fowler.
The bad: Didn't trust West to extend its Cinderella run. Took Shafter at home to snap a four-game losing streak. Struck out with Boron and Mojave in the Southern Section. The list goes on.
The ugly: All might be forgiven if I had gotten the night's biggest games right, but I took an 0-for-3 in Division I. All three were toss-ups and somewhat surprising, but still ... yeesh.
Friday, Nov. 23
CENTRAL SECTION PLAYOFFS
DIVISION I SEMIFINALS
NO. 8 LIBERTY (8-4) AT NO. 4 FRESNO-CENTRAL (10-2) — It was easy to imagine, back in Week 1, that Liberty and Central would be meeting again in the playoffs. And that's happened. Forget the fact that in between, both teams — particularly Liberty — had enough ups and downs to make us think a playoff meeting was incredibly unlikely. But here we are, with a suddenly healthy-again Liberty team facing a rejuvinated Grizzlies team that led mighty Bakersfield 28-0 last week on its way to a 42-28 win. And so we think back to that first meeting: Central won 10-9, but you'll remember that Liberty missed an extra point late and also had a field goal blocked. You might not remember that after trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Patriots more or less dominated the second half. Central looked gassed by the end. But that was 12 weeks ago. You'd expect any conditioning problems to have been solved, and you'd expect Central to play better at home. But what about Liberty? Have they improved or just stagnated with all of the injuries and personnel changes? This is a tough, tough call ... but I'm going with Liberty. This Patriots team just has a certain feel to it, especially after an improbable fourth-quarter surge last week. I'm seriously in doubt here. But the Patriots aren't going to cough up another winnable one against the Grizzlies, are they?
Prediction: Liberty 24, Central 23
NO. 6 FRESNO-EDISON (9-3) AT NO. 2 CLOVIS NORTH (10-1) — This will be a fun game to watch, with the absolute speed of Edison's defense against Clovis North's talented quarterback, Christian Rossi, and his stable of weapons. The Tigers have plenty of speed on offense, too, and Clovis North hasn't given up much all year. Should be a battle royale, with the winner taking on favorite's role in the championship game. I'm more comfortable picking with consistency, and the Broncos have certainly been more consistent. Edison played mistake-free against Frontier last week (at least for three quarters), and if the Tigers do that again, they'll have a shot here. But I'm betting they'll slip up somewhere and give Clovis North an opening. Do that, and the Broncos will waltz right through to the title game. CN likely would also be just one game away from a Southern California regional at that point.
Prediction: Clovis North 33, Edison 21
DIVISION II SEMIFINALS
NO. 5 FRESNO-SUNNYSIDE (8-3) AT NO. 1 GARCES (10-1) — Both of these schools dominated their respective leagues, but that doesn't mean much beacause the NYL and SEYL were pretty watered down. What's more telling for the Wildcats is that they beat Visalia-El Diamante last week; that alone tells you this team can stick with Garces. But for how long? The Rams are explosive and balanced, which is a combination not many defenses can handle. Combine that with big-play defense and special teams, and it's pretty hard to foresee a Sunnyside upset here. In fact, I'm thinking that in all six divisions, no team is a bigger favorite than Garces in Division II. I'm guessing they won't play a game closer than 20 points — and that might be conservative.
Prediction: Garces 49, Sunnyside 21
NO. 11 WEST (6-5) AT NO. 2 SANGER (9-2) — I've used the term "Cinderella run" to describe what West is doing in the D-II playoffs, but that's not really the whole story. The Vikings haven't just found ways to win their first two games, against Tehachapi and Lemoore teams that came in a combined 15-5. West dominated them, especially on defense. All year long, West's offense has been there, with a wing-T rushing attack supplemented by efficient passing from Enrique Salazar. But the defense has been stifling: Since Tehachapi scored on its opening drive of the Vikings' first-rounder, they've given up just nine points in more than seven quarters of action. A trip to Sanger is a tall order, and the Apaches have wins over Edison, Lemoore and Sunnyside. I'm thisclose to getting on the West bandwagon. But every great run has its end, and I'm thinking this is it for the Vikings.
Prediction: Sanger 13, West 10
DIVISION III SEMIFINALS
NO. 4 INDEPENDENCE (6-5) AT NO. 1 RIDGEVIEW (9-2) — The live blog will be here Friday night, dipping down into a D-III playoff game for the first time since last year's first-rounder between Foothill and Delano and for the first time ever this late in the playoffs. That's how big this one is: Two neighborhood rivals, one looking to complete its long ascent to the mountaintop, the other hoping to finally hoping to one-up big brother after losing close games in last year's playoffs and this year's Week 1. It's also going to be fun to see the QBs, Independence's Preston Hodges and Ridgeview's Kamari Cotton-Moya, shoot off offensive fireworks all night. The difference, though, comes on the other side of the ball, where Ridgeview will make a couple of big plays in the secondary and create some separation. Independence's Achilles Heel all year has been teams that pound it with the running game, and the Wolf Pack can certainly do that with Cotton-Moya and Brandon Tripp.
Prediction: Ridgeview 35, Independence 24
NO. 6 PORTERVILLE (6-5) AT NO. 2 DINUBA (10-1) — Another regular-season rematch — that's three — this time of a game won 45-35 by the Emperors. I said before the playoffs that there were four teams clearly a cut above the rest in Division III, and it's no surprise to see Porterville prove me wrong by beating Mt. Whitney in the quarters. The Panthers have been a mainstay late in the postseason for the past four years, and they're back in the final four. Still, this is a tough draw. Normally I'm all for strength of schedule, but I think Dinuba is going to be really zeroed in for this one after falling to Kingsburg in the semifinals as a No. 1 seed last year. The 2011 Emperors also won the regular-season meeting between those teams, and I don't think Dinuba makes the same mistake twice.
Prediction: Dinuba 42, Porterville 28
DIVISION IV SEMIFINALS
NO. 5 CHOWCHILLA (9-3) AT NO. 1 WASCO (11-0) — It's a new season for Wasco. I realize that's something that's said for most teams once the playoffs begin, for the Tigers, I mean it in this sense: Until now, there was very little or no doubt that Wasco would win every game it played. The Tigers have done it convincingly every week, which is impressive, but they also haven't been pushed. At all. That will change at some point in the next two weeks, and I think it will be Friday. But I still don't think Chowchilla won't be able to stick around all four quarters. Wasco is too explosive and too dominant on the lines against another small public school. A big play lurks on quite literally every offensive play. The Redskins have won nine of 10 games, though, and they'll be game for a while, probably to the tune of hitting some big plays against Wasco's aggressive defense. Problem is, you can be impressive against Wasco and still lose by 28.
Prediction: Wasco 55, Chowchilla 28
NO. 3 BAKERSFIELD CHRISTIAN (9-2) AT NO. 2 TULARE-MISSION OAK (9-2) — One of the more underrated coaching jobs in the county has been that done by Jerald Pierucci at BCHS. The Eagles have won every game you'd expect them to, slipping up not once and navigating a number of injuries, including one to star running back Matt Smith. The flip side, of course, is that BCHS has been outmatched against its two toughest opponents, Ontario Christian and Wasco. Mission Oak is that kind of a team; Pierucci said after the Wasco loss that his weight-training program would eventually catch BCHS up to the Tigers' level of size and physicality but that the Eagles weren't there yet. I think we'll see it again here, though Mission Oak hasn't displayed the frightening efficiency that Wasco has. The Eagles can do some damage with their balanced offense, but I think they'll fall off the pace before too long.
Prediction: Mission Oak 38, Bakersfield Christian 17
DIVISION V SEMIFINALS
NO. 4 LINDSAY (8-3) AT NO. 1 LIBERTY-MADERA RANCHOS (10-1) — One win from its second straight Division V final, it doesn't appear this run is ending any time soon for Liberty-Madera Ranchos. The Hawks' starting quarterback, Zach Richie, and one of two 800-yard running backs, Wade Wallace, are both sophomores, as is defensive standout Logan Pierce. First things first: Taking care of the Cardinals, who were 2-8 last year and had a nice turnaround year.
Prediction: Liberty-Madera Ranchos 31, Lindsay 10
NO. 7 WOODLAKE (9-3) AT NO. 6 CORCORAN (6-5) — Seven leagues still have two teams alive in the Central Section playoffs: TRAC (Clovis North, Central), SWYL (Liberty, Independence), SYL (West, Ridgeview), CMAC (Edison, Sanger), EYL (Porterville, Mission Oak), SSL (Wasco, BCHS) and NSL (Chowchilla, Liberty-Madera Ranchos). But only one league has three: The East Sequoia League, which features Lindsay plus these two, who both pulled off road upsets last week. The first time they met, Corcoran won 26-15. Both teams seem to be playing better at this point, but I'm taking the Panthers again. That's a tough place to play, and Corcoran has a playoff pedigree the Tigers can't match.
Prediction: Corcoran 27, Woodlake 17
DIVISION VI CHAMPIONSHIP
NO. 2 FARMERSVILLE (6-5) AT NO. 1 MENDOTA (8-3) — Second straight year for this final, which Mendota won last year 41-20 to complete an unbeaten season. This matchup figures to be a much closer battle of the Aztecs. I'll continue to ride with the home team, meaning I've picked the home team in 10 of these 11 games. What can I say, I don't see a ton of upsets coming — or maybe I'm just gunshy after a terrible quarterfinals.
Prediction: Mendota 30, Farmersville 24
Last week: 7-7 (.500)
This year: 218-59 (.787)