MC cruises to win over Le Grand

SALIDA -- There was no need to say anything. Reeves Nelson's smile said it all.

He had just jammed a nifty, one-handed dunk to close the first half, boosting Modesto Christian's lead to 44 points.

He turned to the capacity crown at gave a big grin, tucking his hands behind his back as he headed upcourt.

"I've been through a lot this season and I've come to realize basketball should be fun," said the 6-foot-8-inch power forward, who will be playing at UCLA next season. "We've got one more playoff run and I still want that state title."

The Crusaders began their pursuit by beating Le Grand 99-30 in Wednesday's opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

It was the final home game for the sixth-seeded Crusaders (19-8) and Nelson, a four-year star who said farewell with a 32-point effort featuring a handful of dunks and three 3-pointers. Forward Johnny Hutton scored 15 points for MC, which held Le Grand to 17 points through the first three quarters.

"We're all having fun, you can see it by the way we're playing," said Nelson, who has led MC to the Northern California final the last three years. "When we were 3-8, I didn't know if we'd be able to put it together. But here we are. Of course, we're only the sixth seed."

As in only the sixth-best team among the section's D-IV schools. That's an odd place for a team after its 10th consecutive crown.

"A little respect would be nice. I think we are better than the sixth-best team," Nelson said. "We'll get a chance to show the people at the section that we should be a higher seed."

MC will get the opportunity Friday, when they take the long trek north to play No. 3 Bear River (21-7) at Lake of the Pines.

It won't be the Crusaders' first long trip.

"We took the trip to L.A. and beat Campbell Hall in January, and I think that did a lot to bring these kids together," assistant Pete Vargas said. "We all went to Magic Mountain the next day and it was a great trip for us."

The Crusaders were in the midst of a nine-game winning streak when they beat the small-school power from Hollywood. When that streak ended with a loss to Skyline of Oakland, the Crusaders began another that extended to eight with the playoff victory.

"We talked before the game about great battles in the Bible, the Civil War and even Rocky Balboa," Vargas said. "They all came down to stamina, having the stamina to go the distance. We have that stamina. As coaches, we've known from the start of the season we had it. Now the kids, they realize it, too."

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