SALIDA -- The scene was everything Robb Spencer had worked for since arriving on the Modesto Christian campus nearly a decade ago.
He had built his Crusaders from obscurity into a perennial regional Division 4 power, and coming to town was one of the nation's top teams -- in this case St. Mary's of Stockton -- to do battle in front of a packed house.
Just think of that: a capacity crowd ... for girls' basketball.
"It was my dream coming here nine years ago to be able to come into the gym and see it packed like this for girls' basketball in the Valley," Spencer said. "We've never seen anything like this, with the excitement, and the people from all different schools coming here to watch.
"It was beautiful."
He was referring to the scene and obviously not the final score, as the Rams -- the nation's No. 1 team according to USA Today -- ran away early to a decisive 99-60 victory Wednesday night in front of more than 700 fans.
St. Mary's (20-1) waited about four minutes to show it was the better team, crushing its hosts under the weight of a monumental 41-6 scoring run that took only 8 minutes, 15 seconds, to complete.
It's the kind of spurt that the Rams typically enjoy against the lesser teams on its schedule, the Wests and the Staggs that dot its Tri-City Athletic League schedule. St. Mary's has outscored its foes 273-49 in three league games this year.
But to do it against a team the quality of Modesto Christian (16-3) shows just how explosively powerful these Rams can be.
"We always play this hard, but we were able to put that in combination with how well we shot and how disciplined we were on our press," said St. Mary's coach Tom Gonsalves. "When we're shooting that well, it can really tear your heart out."
The Crusaders looked more than equal to the challenge for the opening four minutes. Taryn Garza had six of her 10 points and Brandi Henton added seven of her team-high 22 points as Modesto Christian opened a 16-11 lead.
Much of the crowd at that point was ready to settle in for what it hoped would be a close game and just possibly an upset finish, but St. Mary's quickly quieted that contingent.
With the Rams' pressure causing numerous turnovers, St. Mary's finished the first quarter on a 17-2 run to take a 28-18 lead. It then held MC without a field goal for the opening 4:40 of the second quarter, long enough for an improbable 24-4 run to take complete control at 52-22.
Chelsea Gray, the Duke-bound senior, scored 10 of her 23 points during the run, but six different St. Mary's players found the net during that barrage. By the time the game had ended, 11 Rams had dented the scoreboard, with eight of them connecting on at least one 3-pointer.
"We talked about how two or three turnovers could become 3-pointers at the other end, and I know they hit three in a row during that run," Spencer said. "We just wanted to play them man-to-man, stay in front, and contain them. We didn't do a good job of that."
The Crusaders actually played well for the three-quarters of the game outside of that scoring run, with Danielle Thompson scoring 15 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.
Yes, the outcome wasn't exactly what the Crusader faithful expected, but the scene itself and most of the action was a rare treat for girls' basketball in this area.
"We can keep this going forever as long as we keep it back-and-forth between the gyms," Spencer said. "I'll go back to Tom's place next year if that's what he wants."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.