MC girls dominate in NorCal playoff opener

SALIDA — Anxiety got the better of Modesto Christian's girls basketball team Tuesday night, but it wasn't enough of a problem to keep it from advancing to the Northern California semifinals.

"We were so anxious to get everything done so quickly," MC coach Robb Spencer said. "If we would only take a second and settle down, then take a shot or go for a steal, we'd do much better."

The Crusaders nevertheless prevailed, as the backcourt tandem of Brandi Henton and Stefani Agostini combined for 37 points in a 75-48 win over Central Valley in a regional quarterfinal.

MC will be hosting a doubleheader Thursday.

The second-seeded girls (25-7) face No. 6 Marin Catholic (25-6), a 57-31 winner over Santa Cruz, at 6. The boys (23-8), who routed Corning 81-44 in Tuesday's late game, play St. Mary's (27-5) at 7:30.

It's a testament to the quality of Spencer's program that questions were being asked following a 27-point win in the regional tournament.

"We can play much better and we have played much better," said Spencer, whose club turned in one of its finest outings a week ago in a 76-30 rout of a 26-3 Argonaut team. "We like the fast tempo, but we need to remember how to control it."

The Crusaders struggled to convert dozens of good looks under the basket, as their frontcourt trio of 5-11 Lauren Lucchesi, 5-11 Taryn Garza and 6-foot Danielle Thompson combined to hit just seven of 34 shots from the floor.

It was the third game in a row that Garza struggled to find her touch, hitting just 2 of 15, but she compensated with 12 rebounds, 12 steals, eight assists and three blocks.

"She's playing so hard on every play, but she might be trying too hard," Spencer noted. "We'll keep working and I think she'll shake this thing."

Spencer's been here before: Agostini was up and down in the regular season, but she's been red-hot in the playoffs.

The 5-foot-8-inch wing had 18 points, hitting 3 of 7 from beyond the 3-point arc, and her second-quarter trey triggered a 15-5, half-ending run.

Central Valley (22-8) trailed only 27-20 with 2:20 left in the half, thanks to its sophomore duo of guard Lala Forrest-Cawker (23 points) and 6-1 Breanna Mackie (10 points, 14 rebounds). Agostini hit her 3-pointer, though, and Marinna McKeever hit another to nearly double the lead.

Henton owned the rest of the first half, scoring seven of the next nine points to give MC a 39-25 halftime lead. She penetrated for two baskets, after hitting an earlier free throw, then closed the half by grabbing a missed shot and banking it in at the buzzer.

Though Garza was unable to contribute with points, she was crucial to MC's defense and transition shots. She repeatedly ripped the ball away from opponents and quickly found teammates for baskets.

"It was much more physical than we're used to," coach Tom Campbell said. "If we played like this (in the Northern Section), Breanna would foul out in the first half."

CV adjusted, though, as Forrest-Cawker began driving to the basket and drawing fouls. She was 15 of 18 from the free-throw line, though just 4 of 18 from the floor as the Crusaders were able to jostle her.

"We kept going for a steal, when we should have focused on playing defense," Spencer said. "We're going to have to be more relaxed Thursday."