Los Banos High's girls basketball team's season doesn't start until Nov. 30, but the tournament it's hosting begins the day before.
Last year it was the Los Banos Invitational, but with the field expanding from eight to 14 teams, the second edition of the tournament has become the Los Banos/Pacheco Invitational, and games will be played at both school sites.
"We got some good play out of it last year, and it was a great opportunity to see good competition," Los Banos coach Danny Crosby said. "We played Modesto Christian and had a chance to see what they were like, then we ended up catching them in playoffs, and went down there better prepared for it."
Returning champion Modesto Christian, which made it to the state Division 3 semifinal last year, is once again the class of the tournament, but Stockton powerhouse McNair, which met MC in the championship last year, is not back. Instead, Calaveras or Los Banos may be the best challengers.
The field is split into two groups of seven teams -- the gold bracket includes LB, MC and Calaveras, and is made up of traditionally strong teams. The silver bracket has the smaller teams, and includes four Southern League teams (Gustine, Delhi, Le Grand and Denair).
"I wouldn't want to (play league opponents)," Crosby said. "But I don't think they knew when they got in that they would see some of their league opponents in there. We tried to get them separated and squared away so they wouldn't see each other, but as they go deeper they'll have to play each other."
Pacheco opens play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against Delhi, while Los Banos has a bye on opening day. The Tigers will begin play at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 against the winner of Thursday's Chowchilla-Downey game.
Both of Saturday's championship games will be at LBHS, while third-place and consolation games will be at Pacheco. Crosby said it was a logical step to include Pacheco as a host when they field expanded beyond eight teams.
"We're all one town, and there shouldn't be any separation between the two if you can work things out," Crosby said. "I hope we can keep this going and get to 16 teams."
The tournament includes gold and silver JV brackets as well. Pacheco JV opens silver-bracket play at 6 p.m. Thursday, while LB plays at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 30 in the gold bracket.
Enterprise reporter David Witte can be reached by phone at 388-6565 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org