LODI — Only 20 seconds had ticked off the third-quarter clock, and Gary Porter had seen enough.
Modesto Christian High's slim, four-point lead against Calaveras had been erased by a layup, a steal of the inbounds pass and another layup, and Porter motioned for his second team to report for action.
As the seniors on the first team hung their heads and trudged back to the bench, the underclassmen ran onto the court. This was their moment to win a game — and a section playoff game at that.
Anthony Pratt, the junior center who is the cornerstone of the Crusaders' second unit, answered the call in a big way. He scored the game's next eight points and finished with 16 points — all in the second half — as Modesto Christian held off the Redskins 74-66 late Wednesday night at Tokay High.
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"I was motivated," Pratt said. "I felt like the refs were against me in the first half, so instead of taking it out on them it motivated me to lead my team in the second half."
The Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal ended after 11 p.m., but both the Crusaders and Redskins have ample time to rest before their next action.
Calaveras (23-7) will find out the identity of its first-round NorCal regional playoff opponent on Sunday. Modesto Christian (21-8) has a more immediate task. The Crusaders will meet Colfax at 3 p.m. Saturday at Arco Arena with an 11th straight section title in the balance.
The Mother Lode league champions gave Modesto Christian all it could handle. Not only were the Redskins able to keep the Crusaders' running game in check, but they seemed to take advantage of every offensive opening they created.
"That's a very well-coached team, and they carried in that record for a reason," Porter said. "It's up to my boys to stand up to these kinds of challenges."
Senior guard Devin White riddled MC with six 3-pointers en route to 27 points, consistently making the big shot whenever it appeared the Crusaders were ready to pull away. Because of that shooting, only once did Modesto Christian have a lead as large as 10 points.
"We did a great job in the first half of slowing them down and taking away their transition points," said Calaveras coach Kraig Clifton. "That was a key for us because that's where they get a lot of their points. It kept us right in the game and all we wanted was a chance at the end."
They got that chance.
After Pratt's eight straight points gave MC a 35-27 lead with 6:03 left in the third quarter, the Redskins came right back as White scored five points in a 10-4 run that brought Calaveras within 39-37 with 3:33 left in the quarter.
The Crusaders never relinquished the lead, but it was still a five-point game with less than four minutes remaining when they finally opened some space. Pratt slashed inside for a slam during a 9-4 spurt that gave MC its only 10-point lead, 68-58 with 1:18 left.
Even then, the Redskins were not finished. Garrett Cline got inside for a basket and Tony Romero hit a 3-pointer after a steal to pull Calaveras within 68-63 with 1:02 remaining.
But freshman Raymond Bowles went coast-to-coast for a layup and Isaiah Burse hit two free throws after being fouled on a rebound to push the lead back to 72-63 with 40 seconds left.
Burse finished with 11 points and Bowles nine for MC, while Romero had 13 points and Cline 12 for the Redskins.
And the next time the seniors come out slow? Porter said he won't hesitate to pull the trigger and call in the second unit.
"I felt I had to make the change and it was for the better," Porter said. "At the time we didn't draw real far ahead, but they came in with the energy to carry us through."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.