RIPON — The Modesto Christian High boys basketball team saw its season come to an end in a very similar fashion to a familiar foe for the second consecutive season.
The Crusaders ran into a quicker, more athletic team in St. Mary's of Berkeley in their Northern California Division IV semifinal Thursday night. The Panthers' withering defense never allowed Modesto Christian to get into any sort of offensive flow in a 59-40 loss in front of a capacity crowd at Ripon High School.
The game was close at the half — Modesto Christian only trailed 24-20 — but the Panthers pulled away with a 16-2 run in the third quarter. St. Mary's advances to the Division IV championship game against league rival Salesian of Richmond on Saturday at Folsom High School at 7 p.m.
"I'm proud of what this team has accomplished," Modesto Christian coach Gary Porter said. "This team has really come a long way.
"But tonight, we ran into a better team."
Early, it looked as though Modesto Christian's superior height would counter the Panthers' quickness.
Reeves Nelson, who saw his spectacular four-year varsity career come to an end, had a big blocked shot to open the game and St. Mary's had problems with the Crusaders' 2-3 zone defense.
"We wanted to mix it up a little bit," Porter said. "We zoned to try to slow them down and keep them from penetrating."
It worked for most of the first half. But the Crusaders backcourt had all sorts of problems with the Panthers' guards. The Panthers harassed MC into bad passes and turnovers all night, and when they were able to run it almost always turned into a layup or open shot on the other end. It was a similar story when MC lost to St. Mary's in last year's NorCal championship game.
"There are some different names, but that's basically the same team," Porter said. "They had good athletes and they penetrated well. You'd turn around and the next thing you knew they'd scored 10 in a row."
The Crusaders' senior forward tandem of Nelson and Johnny Hutton each scored 11 points.
The 6-foot-8-inch Nelson, who will play under scholarship for UCLA next season, was a presence on the defensive boards as well.
"We've had a lot of stars come through here," Porter said. "He's right up there with the best of them.
"He's got a good future and I'm going to enjoy watching him at UCLA."
But Nelson and his teammates struggled with any sort of offensive consistency thanks to the Panthers' pressure defense.
They kept MC's guards from getting comfortable and played the passing lanes well, keeping the ball from Nelson on the inside.
"It was a great season," Porter said. "When you get to this point, every team is good and anything can happen."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
St. Mary's 6-4 guard Chris Brew, who teamed with older brother Will to beat MC in the NorCal final last year, had 24 points and was without equal. He was 6 of 6 at the line and hit 4 of 5 shots from the floor in the second half, finishing 9 of 15 on his shots.
Though St. Mary's had outscored MC 14-9 in the second quarter, for a 24-20 lead, the third quarter sealed the deal. The Panthers only outscored MC 22-15, but it was a 15-7 run to open the second half that MC never recovered from.
Both teams played a zone defense, but St. Mary's was more aggressive and kept the Crusaders frustrated. The 2-3 zone prevented entry passes into 6-8 Reeves Nelson, yet was able to extend enough to prevent many open looks from beyond the 3-point line.
MC point guard Isaiah Burse was fired up from start to finish. He had nine points, including a trey to open the second half that momentarily got MC within 24-23. He did a nice job against the pressure defense, considering he was one of the few Crusaders able to keep pace with St. Mary's.
— Richard T. Estrada