The Modesto Junior College Pirates look at times like eager-to-please colts full of run if not sure about the carriage of their legs.
They were tested to the max the last games of the 75th Modesto Junior College Tournament. The Pirates learned, especially after Saturday night's 86-73 loss to Fresno in the third-place game, that an exciting upside is possible.
But they're light years away from getting there.
"We've underachieved so far," MJC coach Paul Brogan said. "There's too much talent to be 6-4. That's on me."
No. 3-ranked Fresno (10-3), true to its pedigree, left no margin for error. Its double-overtime loss Friday night to eventual runner-up Lassen was only the second time the Rams have fallen here since 2006. Even when they don't win it, they perform like it belongs to them.
About two hours after Modesto's loss, top-ranked City College of San Francisco claimed the championship over stubborn Lassen of Susanville 82-65. In case there were any doubters, CCSF's average margin of victory this week was a healthy 26 points.
Modesto tiptoed toward the fringes of contention against both CCSF (an 83-67 loss in the semifinals) and Fresno. But the Pirates lacked the finishing touch both nights a no-no against the fast-paced but fundamentally solid Rams.
Consider the difficult night absorbed by Modesto's all-tournament selection, the 6-foot-7 forward Tashawn Mabry. Early Fresno aggression read: a stray elbow resulted in Mabry biting through his lower lip. Between blood, reduced minutes and constant defensive pressure, Mabry labored for his 17 points.
A drop-step and finish by Modesto's Brenden Evans, who capped a big night with 24 points, closed the deficit to 75-68. But only five seconds later, Mabry was assessed his fifth foul before Junior Morgan completed a 3-point play with 2:35 left.
About 300 at MJC Gym would not see a dramatic comeback this night.
"We waited too long to play," said Mabry, who paced MJC this week with 81 points. "We have to get better with adversity. Once we do the little things, we'll be all right."
Modesto sought a strong inside game via the physical Evans, Mabry and 6-7 Jerrod Patton. Instead, the Pirates often forced the action and settled for perimeter shots. Worse, MJC goose-egged from the 3-point stripe compared to eight for the Rams. Hitting only 23 of 39 free throws also hurt the home team.
All of that played into Fresno's hands. Guard Alex Perez, a deserving all-tournament choice he even guarded Mabry man-to-man made Modesto pay for its errors with 20 points (9 of 10 free throws).
Fresno couldn't quite put away Modesto, however, though its lead in the second half reached 17 points. Guard Mike Hill logged long minutes for MJC en route to 18 points.
Expect Brogan to reel in his talented if free-wheeling team. The Pirates have shown some appealing physicality. More focused care of the ball, however, will be a must in the upcoming Big 8 Conference season.
"If we're stronger fundamentally, some of those possessions turn out better," Brogan said. "We have to keep the players more on the game plan. That's something we'll get better at."
Delon Wright, San Francisco's silky 6-5 forward from Los Angeles and the brother of the Philadelphia Sixers' Dorell Wright, parlayed his strong title-game performance into the tournament MVP award. He was joined on the honors team by teammate Shawn Smith, Devin Bey of Lassen, Mabry, Perez and Justin Long of Chaffey.
SAN FRANCISCO 82, LASSEN 65 The unbeaten Rams (11-0) ran off 18 unanswered points midway through the second half and, behind 33 points by Wright, turned back Lassen (8-4). Surprisingly, the Cougars allowed the game's first 12 points but led 54-51 before CCSF's stiff counterattack.
"Wright could be the player of the state," veteran CCSF coach Justin Labagh said. "Defensively, this is the best team I've had. The big question will be how we handle adversity."
Guard Sammy Allen Jr. paced Lassen (8-4) with 16 points.
CUESTA 89, LOS MEDANOS 70 Los Medanos drilled 38 3's through its first three games here, but Cuesta (9-4) gained control of the fifth-place game by limiting the Mustangs (7-3) to only two triples during the first half. Bulgaria native Plamen Hristov completed a strong tournament for Cuesta (88 points) with 19. Marquis Arron topped Los Medanos with 13.
CHAFFEY 95, YUBA 59 Long, Chaffey's gifted 6-foot point guard, needed barely half the game to score 26 points as the Panthers from Rancho Cucamonga (7-4) one of the tournament's bests teams cruised to the consolation title. Fellow guard Sango Niang, who is headed for a Simon Fraser team coached by former Columbia and Cal State Stanislaus assistant James Blake, finished with 16 points. Chris Smith had 24 for Yuba (4-5).
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302.
75th MJC Tourney
Championship: San Francisco 82, Lassen 65
Third Place: Fresno 86, Modesto 73Cuesta 89, Los Medanos 70
Consolation Final: Chaffey 95, Yuba 59