RIPON — Four minutes into Tuesday night's game between first-place teams in the Trans-Valley League, Modesto Christian coach Gary Porter pulled his starting five.
The new five, a blend of underclassmen, picked up right where the first five left off.They turned a four-point lead into an 11-point lead by the end of the opening period.
"We did this in Hughson on Friday and it worked, so we'll ride this horse as long as we can," Porter said. "We've got 12 kids who are pretty good and they deserve minutes."
MC was certainly deserving this night, as The Bee's top-ranked small school used its platoon system to rout Ripon 76-31 and take sole possession of first place in the TVL.
"Our first group are seniors and the second is a mix of juniors, sophomores and a freshman," Porter said. "What we found out is they two groups push each other, in practice and in games. It works well."
Playing aggressive defense, pressuring every inbounds pass and harassing any opponent who has the ball, adds to the effectiveness.
MC (9-8, 3-0) didn't need any help, but the Indians (10-10, 2-1) did them a big favor by playing much of the game without Matt Ratto and his 19-point average.
Ratto was called for a charge with 1:34 left in the first quarter, and was whistled for a technical when he told the official what he thought about the call.
"Our rule is if you get a technical, you sit down for the rest of the game," said coach Rod Wright, whose club trailed 13-8 when Ratto left with three points. "Unfortunately, we don't have much beyond Matt. "
With or without having to face Ratto, MC showed it's not the same team that went 0-4 in its own holiday tournament. Of course, the TVL isn't populated by the caliber of teams MC was facing in December.
The Crusaders hit nine 3-pointers, with guards Isaiah Burse (13 points), Jimmy Escudero (11) and Raymond Bowles (eight) hitting from the outside. When the Indians moved to the perimeter to defend, it opened the middle for 6-4 Anthony Pratt (seven) and 6-5 Hayden Lee (eight points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots) and 6-5 Brandon Baker (10 points).
While the offense was enjoyable, with Burse firing passes to teammates both on the perimeter and under the hoop, it was the defense that pleased Porter.
"We played good team defense, and that's what we need if we're going to pressure the ball," Porter said. "If one of our guys gets beat, he needs to know someone is back there to pick up his guy. They've all got to work together, and we're starting to more of it."
Ripon's Caleb Christian hit a shot with 2:20 to play in the first quarter, cutting MC's lead to 11-8, before going cold. Frigid was more like it, as Ripon went the next 13 minutes 30 seconds without a basket.
MC was just the opposite, hitting five 3-pointers in the third quarter. The Crusaders outscored Ripon 47-11 over the second and third quarters.