State

MC girls meet familiar foe

The last and only time Modesto Christian's girls team reached the state championship basketball game was in 2002, and freshman post Courtney Paris wasn't threatening to give back her tuition if they lost.

The last time the Crusaders reached the Northern California championship game was 2004, when they were done in by Forest Lake Christian and a cave-like playoff atmosphere at Delta College.

This is a whole new experience for Modesto Christian.

The roster doesn't feature any burgeoning NCAA Division I player-of-the-year candidates like Paris, who vowed this week to repay her college scholarship if Oklahoma doesn't win the NCAA Tournament. Nor does this MC roster have any players who have reached this level of the playoffs in a previous season.

But that doesn't mean Modesto Christian is going into today's 5 p.m. NorCal Division IV title game at Folsom High against St. Mary's of Albany with wide-eyed wonderment. This will be far from a step into the unknown.

"I'm excited," said Crusaders guard Brandi Henton. "We haven't been there in a couple years. Hopefully we all come together right from the beginning of the game."

MC and St. Mary's already have played this season, with the Panthers stifling the Crusaders 41-28 on Dec. 30. Both teams will be very different in today's game.

To illustrate, MC was 5-5 after that game, while St. Mary's was 5-4. Modesto Christian has rolled off 21 wins in its last 23 games, including 12 in a row, and only once since that loss has scored fewer then 55 points.

The victory over the Crusaders was the second for St. Mary's in a winning streak that now has reached 26.

"We saw them in December, and I know we're better now than we were then," said MC coach Robb Spencer. "They're very good, and I would also think they're better than they were back then. We're going to have to score, but it should be a great game."

No one knows the current Panthers from an opposing standpoint better than Marin Catholic coach Rick DeMartini, whose team lost to St. Mary's 64-36 in the North Coast Section final before losing 55-41 on Thursday to Modesto Christian.

"That will be a very good matchup (today) ," DeMartini said. "St. Mary's has a couple 3-point shooters, but Modesto matches up with them very well in size and speed. It should be a great game."

For the Crusaders to pull off the victory and advance to next Saturday's state title game at Arco Arena, the shots will have to fall. Modesto Christian shot 39 percent from the floor in Thursday's win, missing 13 relatively easy shots from close range.

"I don't know what the deal is with our team and layups, but we have to get those down," Henton said. "All it is, is focusing on the box, hitting it and getting the shot in. No one is using the glass right now, including me."

The Crusaders offense remains balanced, with Henton driving, Lauren Lucchesi finishing inside, and Stefani Agostini and Marinna McKeever supplying the outside punch. Center Taryn Garza continues to struggle offensively, but is an unmatched post defender and rebounder.

St. Mary's has three players averaging double figures in scoring. Danielle Mauldin does it on the inside with 16.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. The outside threats are Sonia Aguilar and Cody Sims, who both average 10 points per game.

"It will be a challenge, "Henton said. "We know what they have and what they're bringing. They know what we're coming with, so it's a matter of who executes better."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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