Still Crusadin'

SALIDA — The walls of the tiny Modesto Christian High gym probably still are reverberating from the moment Thursday night just after Isaiah Burse's 3-pointer banked home to beat Arcata.

Here's the sobering realization about that scene: the next time Burse suits up to play in front of the home school fans, he'll be wearing pads and a Fresno State football uniform.

Burse isn't planning on playing any spring sports for the Crusaders as he starts his college football conditioning process, so his game-winning shot in the Northern California Division 4 regional quarterfinal victory was his final athletic act for MC in front of the home folks.

What a way to go out.

The second sobering thought was that the Crusaders now are up against what could be their toughest foe of the season tonight when they face defending Division 4 state champion Salesian of Richmond in a 7 p.m. tip at Pinole Valley High School. The Pride is 31-2 and boasts a University of Washington-bound 6-foot, 8-inch forward in Desmond Simmons, who averages 18 points per game.

When asked for a scouting report, MC coach Gary Porter didn't mince words.

"They're good," Porter said. "They'll be the best team we play this year so we have to come ready to play. The kids are doing what they need to do and I'm more confident than before about this group — especially more confident than I was at tournament time.

While MC needed overtime to put away Arcata, second-seeded Salesian just last week had its way with the Tigers from Humboldt County, beating them 70-47 in a North Coast Section semifinal. Salesian then lost to St. Mary's of Albany 52-49 in the section final.

Arcata coach Eric Vollmers, just moments after his team absorbed Burse's buzzer-beater, also offered a scouting report on Salesian.

"Salesian is very athletic," Vollmers said. "They have a very good player in Simmons and they're deep, quick, they can shoot the ball and they're disciplined. They'll push the ball if its there, but if not they can run their stuff. It's hard to say about the matchups. That's why they play the game, because anybody can win."

Simmons is one of three players taller than 6-5 on the Salesian roster, which means the MC post players again will have to look up at their opposition.

"Salesian, state champions," said MC's 6-4 junior post player Anthony Pratt. "We just have to come out, work, knuckle down. I can see us going all the way. There's no doubt. We have to take care of business early and I believe we can do it."

His confidence and enthusiasm is shared by Burse, who has emerged this school year as one of the better refuse-to-lose athletes this area has seen in many years.

"We needed Pratt to step up and he did," Burse said. "I told him that when their big guys got the ball in the post I was going to crash in and swipe the ball away as much as I could and we had some success doing that."

But tonight brings a new challenge, and either a chance for Burse and No.3 seed MC to add to their impressive resumes or for the chapter to be closed on a remarkable story.

"These kids seem to rise up," Porter said. "(Against Arcata) they didn't want to quit and they sat there with a feeling like they had this one won all the way. I'm glad they felt that way because I didn't."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at or 578-2300.