Girls at Modesto Christian get big test

January 29, 2009 

Central Catholic’s T.J. Belton, top, is No. 2 in the state in 160s. ( Adrian Mendoza / The Modesto Bee)

This game's been circled on the calendar of the members of the Modesto Christian girls basketball team for a long time.

The Crusaders hit the road to play one of the state's top programs, St. Mary's of Stockton, on Friday night. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

Both teams run and press. Both teams can play physical basketball. And both are accustomed to winning by large margins.

Modesto Christian (14-6) has won eight consecutive games. The Crusaders last lost to a team from the Stanislaus District in December 2006 (Davis High). With players such as Brandi Henton (16.2 points, 4.2 steals per game) and Taryn Garza (12.5 points, 8.7 rebounds), Modesto Christian has a slugger's chance in every game.

St. Mary's (17-3) opened the season as the top-ranked girls basketball team in the country in a handful of national polls. The Rams' three losses have come to two out-of-state teams and Clovis West. They're currently ranked No. 6 overall in the state by ESPN/CalHiSports.com.

"We're excited," Modesto Christian coach Robb Spencer said last week. "A game like this shows you where you're at."

One thing's for sure, the Crusaders won't play a team at this level in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. The Rams press and trap all over the court, and are well-schooled at their defense.

It's shown in their scores.

Recently, St. Mary's beat Tracy 105-17, and defeated Stagg 98-10. Modesto Christian has had some lopsided scores as well. The Crusaders beat Escalon 101-14, and topped Hughson 61-19 two days later.

While none of those margins compare to the 100-0 girls basketball score out of Texas two weeks ago, they don't look pretty, either.

Friday's game should be a lot closer for both sides.

"We're all looking forward to (St. Mary's)," Henton said.

A lot of girls basketball fans out of Modesto and Stockton are, too.

The Sac-Joaquin Section released its league strengths of boys and girls basketball, and it isn't very pretty for the Division I leagues out of the Stanislaus District.

The numbers are important, because the section determines each school's power rating -- the computer formula that decides the playoff teams -- using a multiplier of this number.

The Central California Conference boys were given a 7.4, the fourth-strongest on the boys side. The Modesto Metro Conference boys, however, received a 6.1 -- a tie for 10th strongest.

On the girls side, the CCC's 6.7 comes in at No. 7 and the MMC's 6.2 is 10th. The full chart can be found at www.cifsjs.org.

The last regular-season wrestling tournament of the year takes place Saturday at Pitman High: The Rumble in the Jungle.

The field of 24 schools is mainly made up of local schools, although Granite Bay and Liberty of Madera are also making the trip. The Rumble in the Jungle is unique in that it's also a large junior varsity tournament and is wrestled college-style, which means the matches are wrestled continuously throughout the day, with little fanfare before quarterfinals or semifinals.

Two of the state's top-ranked wrestlers are expected to compete. Central Catholic senior T.J. Belton is ranked No. 2 in the state at 160 pounds, according to The California Wrestler magazine. Belton has since dropped to 152 pounds, where he defeated the current state No. 1 at that weight, Tyler Sheridan of De La Salle. And Granite Bay's Ryan Loder could compete. Loder has been ranked No. 1 in the state at 189 pounds for nearly the entire season.

Tournament director Chris Wolfley said the semifinals should be contested around 4 p.m., with the entire tournament to be over by 7:30.

Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at wdeboard@modbee.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.

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