MODESTO -- Fresno City, the resident Godzilla of the 75th Modesto Junior College Tournament, hung on the ledge Wednesday night. The Rams were reeling and ready to fall in the first round.
And then they didn't.
The defending MJC and state champions, down by four points with less than a minute left, somehow scratched out a 64-63 win over powerful Chaffey of Rancho Cucamonga. Alex Perez's finger-roll layup, off a clever back-door pass from fellow guard Thomas Jordan, won it with 4.9 seconds left.
A contested 18-footer by Chaffey's Anthony Fitzpatrick wasn't close, and Fresno which has won five of the last six MJC tournaments and a record 10 overall walked off MJC Gym feeling equal parts satisfaction and relief.
"We beat a southern powerhouse tonight. They are so athletic," Fresno coach Ed Madec said in reference to the 15th-ranked Panthers. "I was very worried going into the game."
Madec's concern was well-placed. Chaffey (4-4) countered Fresno's manic pace and did not blink at an early 11-point deficit. The Panthers erased a six-point halftime deficit, outhustled the Rams for long stretches of the second half and led 45-38 with 10:35 left.
Standing up to No. 3-ranked Fresno and beating the Rams, however, are two different things. Chaffey positioned itself for the upset on Kenny Morgan's running hook in the paint and a 63-59 lead with 55 seconds left.
Fresno (8-2) responded with a gutsy possession capped by a 3-point basket by Rich Tesmer with 30 seconds to go. Chaffey then opened the door via a pair of curled-out misses at the free-throw line by Carl Robinson.
It was all the opportunity Fresno needed. Jordan and Perez, two of the Rams' three returning starters, executed their two-man game to perfection.
"We ran that a lot in practice this week. We knew we would need it this week," Perez said. "You work on that to be tight in situations when the game is close. It's all about staying even-keeled."
That's not exactly the strength of Madec, Fresno's emotional and frenzied coach. His team lacks the height and power of recent years but its poise hasn't diminished.
"(Coach) puts us through a lot worse in practice," Perez said. "No matter how bad it looks, we've seen worse."
Anthony Fitzpatrick led Chaffey with 13 points. Forward Udun Osakue topped Fresno with 12 points, but the Rams scrambled home on eight triples by guards Tesmer, Erwin Thomas Hammock, Colton Hafey and Chris Ashanti.
Tonight's second round features Modesto versus Los Medanos at 8 o'clock and, at 6, a father-son matchup of Chabot, coached by Denny Aye, versus Lassen, coached by his son Devin.
CHABOT 67, SACRAMENTO 65 Chabot (5-3), hanging on with a one-point lead, blocked an inside shot with 2 seconds left. Damarius Jones (14 points), who banked in a 30-footer to end the first half, hit a free throw and intentionally front-rimmed the second with .8 to go to clinch the victory.
Sacramento (3-3) trailed by 12 points but led briefly with 7 minutes left. The Panthers' Patrick Lowman picked up 15 of his 21 points during the second half. Guard Greg Lowman topped the Gladiators with 19 points.
LASSEN 80, MENDOCINO 58 Lassen assured tonight's father-son Aye duel by taking charge immediately against Mendocino. Charles Jackson (11 points), the Cougars' 6-8 post, patrolled the paint while Mendocino never ignited its 3-point shooting (only four made 3-pointers).
Garrick Wilson fueled the fast start by the Cougars (17 points), while Devin Bey (16) heated up after halftime. Kevin Charles led Mendocino with 14 points.
CUESTA 68, IMPERIAL VALLEY 63 For the second time in four days, Cuesta (7-3) overtook Imperial Valley (3-6) in the second half. The loss by the Arabs, coached by Tyson Aye, prevented a three-game sweep by the Aye family in the first round.
Cuesta's 6-4 forward, Plamen Hristov from Bulgaria Cuesta's roster covers nine countries escorted the Cougars from a 10-point deficit midway in the second half. He burned IVC for 30 points, 23 during the final 20 minutes. Geric Leath, Imperial Valley's 6-6 forward, totaled 13 points. Cordaryus Craigen had 12.