James Burns: Merced County 'super subs' playin' for state

James Burns, sports editor
James Burns, sports editor

And you thought the high school basketball season was over. Shame on you.

The CIF State Championships will be played on Friday and Saturday at Arco Arena -- two days of end-to-end action, featuring the best boys and girls teams in the Golden State.

And if you look closely, you might spot a few familiar faces kneeling near the scorer's table, shaking with adrenaline, waiting to check in.

One from Merced.

Another from Atwater.

They'll be the first two off the bench for the Modesto Christian girls basketball team and probably the youngest players on the floor.

Valerie Moore and Danielle Thompson are key contributors for a program decorated in blue banners but lacking the ultimate status symbol: a California Interscholastic Federation state championship.

MC came close in 2002, falling to La Jolla Country Day High School -- otherwise known as the Candace Wigginses.

Remember her?

Wiggins, a four-time state player of the year and the future scoring champ at Stanford, went berserk against Modesto Christian. Completely bonkers.

She had a triple-double, spoiling MC's first-ever trip to the state title game.

"The most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," Modesto Christian coach Robb Spencer said.

That could all change on Saturday, when Modesto Christian (27-7) takes on SoCal champion Mater Dai Catholic (29-3) in the Division IV game.

Just get there early.

Tip off is 9:30 a.m.

Moore and Thompson -- the leaders of MC's bench mob -- should check in shortly after that.

"They're absolutely and positively big-time players," Spencer said. "They're huge to our success and everything we do out there."

He ain't kidding, either.

If it weren't for Moore's thievery or Thompson's knack for the ball, MC might be sitting at home right now.

Like you and me.

Thompson has been a beast on the low blocks, maturing into one of the best young forwards in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section.

The 6-foot sophomore is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. She was named to the all-Trans Valley League team.

Moore is averaging 6.5 points per game and is third on the team in steals with 62.

The 5-9 freshman was an all-Trans Valley League honorable mention, but during Saturday's 62-57 overtime victory over top-seeded Berkeley St. Mary's, she played like the team's MVP.

And she needed only seconds to leave her mark.

"Valerie has made so much happen during this playoff run," Spencer said. "She's at the front of our press and she can jump out of the gym.

"She always seems to get a deflection on the ball, and of course, that starts our transition offense."

Moore had two steals and went 4 for 4 from the charity stripe in the final 20 seconds of the third quarter on Saturday.

The one-man push tied the score at 39-all after three, and 12 minutes later...

MC was dancing, screaming and shouting its way into the state championship game.

"Crucial," Spencer said of Moore. "It changed the momentum of the game.

"And those last two free throws came at the buzzer, so she was out there by herself -- fans yelling, nobody on the blocks.

"For a freshman to do that ... that was big time That was special."

It's been a special season for Modesto Christian.

The Salida school started the season clunky and awkward, going 6-6 as players tried to find their role in Spencer's scheme.

Since then, MC has gone 21-1.

The reasons are many: the play of guards Brandi Henton and Stefani Agostini; forwards Taryn Garza and Lauren Lucchesi; a mid-season pow-wow.

Spencer highlights them all as he goes, but he also gives credit to the baby-faced twosome kneeling near the scorer's table, chomping at the bit.

His super subs.

A freshman from Merced. And a sophomore from Atwater.

Valerie Moore.

Danielle Thompson.

"The sky is the limit for those two," Spencer said. "Danny could very easily average a double-double. She's always in the right place at the right time.

"Val's the same way at the head of our press.

"It's been a blessing. They're something totally different off the bench."

Don't believe him?

You can see for yourself this Saturday.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at

State Championship

WHEN: Friday and Saturday at Sacramento's Arco Arena

LOCAL TIE: Freshman Valerie Moore (Merced) and sophomore Danielle Thompson (Atwater) both play big minutes for Modesto Christian, which plays Mater Dai Catholic in the Division IV final on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.