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Richard Banas II Lodi’s path similar to Tokay’s 2006 title run

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Richard Banas II

Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2012 12:00 am

The Lodi Flames’ stirring path to the boys basketball section championship game is evoking memories of Tokay’s 2005-06 title push — the sensational postseason that culminated in a 84-64 win over Modesto in the championship game.

Six years ago, I sat courtside at Arco Arena and watched Dustin Lanz’s Tigers narrowly lose the NorCal crown to eventual state champion De La Salle.

I wondered if I would ever see that kind of local prep team again.

The names are fixed in Tokay basketball lore: Julius Thomas, Jordan Lawley, D.J. Seeley, Mike Caffese and Nick Rhodes formed the best starting lineup to ever grace The Jungle’s hardwood.

Now the Flames’ own fantastic five — Brandon Michelucci, Colton Machado, Benny Simi, Anthony Gonsalves and Jordan Belasco — are making a case to be mentioned at The Inferno in the same breath as their fabled Tiger brethren.

The Tokay and Lodi squads share the same attributes:

A terrific starting five.

A deep bench.

Outstanding trapping defenses.

Both an inside game as well as great 3-point shooting.

Seasoned veteran leadership.

In my mind’s eye, I can see flashes of the floor generalship of point guard Caffese in Belasco’s nifty assists, the power of the 6-foot-6 Thomas in Michelucci’s thunderous dunks, the clutch 3-point sharpshooting of Lawley in Gonsalves, the all-around inside/outside game of Seeley in Machado and the defense and rebounding of Rhodes in Simi.

Throw in a pair of well-respected coaches in the Tigers’ Lanz and the Flames’ Dave Nutting and you have a dream video game matchup on the Wii if it ever got made.

The similarities don’t end there, either.

Both teams won their league championships and also used a demoralizing loss in the last month of the season — the Tigers, 56-53 to St. Mary’s, and Lodi, 53-51 to Tokay — to pull together as a family and raise their respective games to another level.

Tokay’s resulted in an eight-game winning streak, a section title and wins over state-ranked teams Deer Valley and Castlemont before the loss to De La Salle.

The giant-killer Flames went on to win eight of nine games, including upsets of No. 2 Sacramento and No. 3 McNair, to reach today’s title tilt.

And just like the Tigers in 2006, Lodi’s thrilling march to today’s final at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento has sent a twinge of excitement through our community.

The Flames Fanatics were every bit as loud and raucous in the win over McNair Wednesday as were the Tigers’ Bleacher Creatures that packed Arco Arena back then.

No matter the outcome of today’s game, the Flames are already guaranteed a spot in the NorCal playoffs next week.

And with a win over top-seeded Antelope tonight, Lodi can join Tokay as the only two prep basketball teams from our city to win section crowns.

The history books are waiting.

It’s up to the 2012 Lodi Flames to etch their names in it.