SALIDA — It's no secret many private schools across the country are suffering financial hardships that come with dwindling enrollment.
But Modesto Christian High might have stumbled upon a new revenue stream charging admission to watch basketball practice.
After the Crusaders stunned defending Division 3 state champion Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills 84-60 Friday night with a dominant effort, point guard T.J. Wallace said the team's ability to sustain a high level of intensity for 32 minutes was developed in their breakneck intrasquad scrimmages.
"Bishop Alemany is a really good team, really well-coached," Wallace said. "But in practice we have a lot of games against our second unit that are tough like that."
Wallace began to point toward teammates in the Crusaders' locker room, some of whom get little or no playing time.
"He can play, and he can play and he's really good," Wallace said. "So we go head-to-head in practice and battle like we played tonight, battling on every possession, for every basket and every stop."
And who among the capacity crowd at the MC gym wouldn't pay to watch that?
The victory boosted the Crusaders' record to 10-1 and put them in the championship game of the 13th Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop classic, where they will meet El Camino Real, a very talented Division 2 team from Woodland Hills.
El Camino Real handled Weston Ranch 79-54 in Friday's second semifinal game. Tonight's title game is scheduled to tip-off at 8:15 p.m. Weston Ranch and Alemany meet for third place at 6:30 p.m.
University of the Pacific-bound tandem of Wallace and Raymond Bowles scored 51 points (Wallace 28, Bowles 23) while sophomore center Anthony Townes had his way inside for 16 points.
Juniors Brandon Boyd and Bear Henderson scored 11 apiece for the young Warriors (8-4,) who won this tournament a year ago.
The Crusaders' players and coaches were reluctant to rate this among their best performances in recent years, which perhaps shows their focus. After all, they still need one win to claim the first title in their own tournament since 2005, when they beat Taft, another Woodland Hills power.
"I have a lot of faith in this team and I feel that if we put a complete game together we can match up with anyone. But I wasn't expecting a 24-point win," said co-head coach Richard Midgley. "I'm so proud that we came out and were able to show our fans a complete effort."
Even Bowles, whose previous three years in this tournament produced a 4-8 record, wasn't ready to give this win a prime spot on the mantel.
"I honestly think we can still play better than that," Bowles said. "Once we start with energy, it goes through the whole game, and through the whole bench. When we get momentum going, the whole team gets involved."
The game began like an evenly matched heavyweight bout, with Townes' eight points helping to forge a 21-21 tie at the end of a first quarter that left the crowd breathless with its pace and quality.
There was no way both teams would be able to keep it up, but it wasn't a question of which team faltered first as much as which team would step up to take control.
And that would be MC, which got seven points from Wallace and six from Bowles to open the second quarter on a 15-2 run. Once the lead was established, the Crusaders never let up.
"We just kept going and weren't going to stop at all," Bowles said. "Even if the game kept going back and forth like the first quarter, we were going to come out on top and try to battle even harder."
EL CAMINO REAL 79, WESTON RANCH 54 From the opening moments it was clear the Cougars, coming off an exceptional effort in their second-round victory over Central of Fresno, were not going to be able to match-up physically with the Conquistadors.
El Camino Real (10-2) jumped out quickly to a 10-point lead, which it extended to 45-27 at halftime, fueling its offense with an opportunistic defense that led to easy baskets at the other end.
The Conquistadors got 18 points from 6-7 senior forward Michael Thomas and 14 points from junior shooting guard 14.
Weston Ranch (6-4) was paced by Daiveon Leverett with 23 points, while Dylan Alexander added 13.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150.
Third Round Scores
Modesto Christian 84, Alemany 60
El Camino Real 79, Weston Ranch 54
Clovis East 46, Horizon 42
Ripon 64, Turlock 55
Granada Hills 45, Foothill 35
Cesar Chavez 58, Centennial 50
Central-Fresno 80, University 67
Burbank 80, Sylmar 70
9:30 a.m.: Turlock vs. Horizon
11 a.m.: Ripon vs. Clovis East
12:30 p.m.: Centennial vs. Folsom
2 p.m.: University vs. Sylmar
3:30 p.m.: Central-Fresno vs. Burbank
5 p.m.: Cesar Chavez vs. Granada Hills
6:30 p.m.: Weston Ranch vs. Alemany
8:15 p.m.: Mod. Christian vs. El Camino