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Hungry For Playoffs
12-29 OAK B-BB prev3
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After seven full seasons with an empty plate, the Oakdale High varsity boys basketball program is getting awfully hungry.

Mustang chefs — also known as players and coaches — say the 2011 menu will include a winning season and an appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

“Honestly I think we are going to win league, if not finish in the top three,” Oakdale senior power forward Jake Martinez said. “I think we are getting a lot better and we are going to do some good things this year.”

And if anyone would know Oakdale’s potential, it’s Martinez.

The three-year varsity standout has been fantastic so far this year, leading a sharp cast of players across every position on the floor to a 7-2 start to the 2010-11 preseason.

It’s Oakdale’s best start since a 2002-03 season that saw Oakdale nab fifth place in the Division III SJS power ratings.

Four years later, Martinez and the rest of Oakdale’s senior Mustangs enrolled at OHS, the same year that current head coach Jeremy Fields began his work with the program.

Fields believes that this senior class, the first to undergo his program-wide system of tutelage, will be the ones to send Oakdale back to the postseason.

“I think their involvement in the system has a lot to do with the success we are seeing right now,” Fields said. “There are a lot of four-year guys on this team who do all the little intangibles to help us win.”

Fields admitted he expects playoffs from the team that finished first in the Save Mart Classic on Dec. 11 and ended third in the Ripon Tournament on Dec. 18.

Oakdale has outscored opponents 516-466, and won three of the four games on their schedule decided by a three or less point margin.

Coincidently, all three of those wins highlighted the clutch production of Oakdale senior Vince Thompson. The Mustang guard sank a three-point buzzer beater to top Escalon (68-67), drained back-to-back free throws to finish Livingston (62-59) and on Thursday gave Oakdale an early present on the night before Christmas Eve by sinking two free throws to seal a 58-55 win over Stagg.

And as clutch as he is, Thompson is certainly not Oakdale’s top scorer. That honor goes to Martinez, who put up 25 on Stagg and collected All Tourney honors from the Save Mart Classic after 19 points in the title game.

Martinez is deadly in the post, and has improved upon a set of skills that made him one of the more dangerous Valley Oak League performers in 2009-2010.

“Jake can be incredibly explosive and strong on the court, and the more he realizes his potential the better he will be,” Fields said. “He worked on his quickness over the summer and he can square up or play off the dribble very well this year.”

Jake’s younger brother, Justin Martinez, joins him on the starting lineup, and adds the height and skill in the post to complement well with Oakdale guards Thompson, Daniel Linder and Marcus Hernandez.

Hernandez was Oakdale’s point guard a season ago as a Mustang sophomore, and has only improved his play in pressure situations. He shares time with the likes of Mustang reserve players Vince Fauria, Manny Hernandez, Nathan Van Ryn, Blake Thompson and Tyler Hopkins.

“I really feel like I can start eight different guys on a given night,” Fields said. “We have a lot of guys on our bench that are very vital to our success, who know what it takes for us to win.”

Oakdale saw scoring from eight different players in the Stagg win on Thursday. Justin Martinez tallied nine points while Van Ryn scored seven and Thompson five. Marcus Hernandez added four while Manny Hernandez (three), Fauria (three) and Linder (two) also found the net.

Oakdale had some trouble with Stagg standout Lonnie Ellis, who broke to the top of the key for several treys and a game high 30 points. The 6 foot, 3 inch sharpshooter was a good test for Mustang defenders ready to tackle Valley Oak League point scorers.

“He shot the roof off,” Martinez said. “That was a nice challenge, and that helps us get ready for good competition.”

East Union sent a coach to scout Oakdale during the Stagg contest, possibly a good sign that VOL programs are expecting good things from the Mustangs after their hot start in 2010.

East Union (5-3) is one of six VOL teams with at least an even record this preseason. Weston Ranch (5-2) won the Bradshaw Holiday Jamboree by a 23-point margin and was second in the Tracy Holiday Classic. Sierra (6-3) and Sonora (4-4) have been strong at points this year, and no one is counting out reigning VOL champions, Manteca (2-7), who have played mostly Division I opponents thus far.

“The VOL will be extremely competitive,” Fields said. “Sierra is the favorite, with Sonora, Weston Ranch, Manteca, EU and of course Oakdale all with ability to knock anyone off on any night.”

Oakdale continues play in their host tournament, The Oakdale Rotary Classic, today, Dec. 29. Eight varsity and junior varsity programs will wrap up the final barrage of matches on Thursday, with a varsity championship scheduled for 8 p.m.

Oakdale, Los Banos, Johansen, Patterson, Hughson, Grace Davis, Ripon Christian and Riverbank teams are all in attendance.