With a share of the Modesto Metro Conference championship on the line, Modesto High girls basketball coach Pete Peterson tried an entirely new strategy.
"We told the girls from the opening tip to get the ball inside to Jessica Rodriguez," he said. "It's the first time all year we've made such a concerted effort to get her the ball."
It worked so well, the Panthers just might keep doing it.
Rodriguez scored 26 points, dominating the paint with several key rebounds and putbacks in the final periods, as Modesto held off Enochs for a 64-61 overtime victory Tuesday night at Panther Palace.
The teams will share the MMC championship. Enochs (18-8, 8-2) clinched a share of the title when it beat Beyer last Thursday. Modesto (14-10, 8-2) evened up the standings on Tuesday.
"We each defended our homes," Enochs coach Ted Bergerson said. "And now we've got two champions."
The Panthers pounded the ball inside for much of the evening, with Rodriguez taking passes at the top of the key and driving inside for baskets or getting fouled. And once Eagles center Shanika Blunt fouled out in the fourth quarter, Rodriguez had an even more free reign.
By the extra period, Enochs was missing three starters -- Blunt, Jessica Lejarzar and Taylor McCain had all fouled out. The Eagles lost another key player when Jalissa Freeman (team-high 21 points) injured her knee on a drive to the basket.
With 2:56 left, Rodriguez scored on an offensive rebound for a 59-56 lead. And with 1:31 left, Rodriguez hit a jumper from just inside the free-throw line for a 61-58 lead. Love Grewal's two free throws with 23.7 seconds left sealed the victory.
"Every kid my age dreams about being in this situation," said Rodriguez, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. "Words can't explain how this feels."
Modesto jumped out to big leads in the first half, up by 43-30 with 2:56 left in the third quarter.
But the Eagles finished the third with three 3-pointers by Freeman, and freshman guard VeAnne Navarro (15 points) led the way in the fourth quarter, scoring six early points to tie the game up. But the Panthers pulled away in overtime.
"This is a special group of girls," Peterson said. "I couldn't be more pleased with how they played tonight. They battled."
And they won a share of the MMC title.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.