RIVERBANK -- Even when you're the second-best team in a league where second place is the glass ceiling, you get two shots to test yourself against the best.
Make no mistake. Riverbank is the second-best team in the Trans-Valley League this year, and Tuesday's 94-68 Modesto Christian victory at the Bruins' gym was an accurate measure of the difference between the two.
For the Crusaders (17-2 overall, 6-0 TVL,) the top-ranked team in the Stanislaus District, this was consecutive league win No. 110, dating back to when Gary Porter took over the program in 1996.
That streak already is a district and NorCal record and is only 15 wins off the California state record of 125 held by Fresno's Washington Union.
And, yes, the majority of those wins, whether in the Southern League (1996-98) or in the TVL (2007-current) have been less competitive than this 26-point decision.
So the question really isn't one of how the lesser teams try to combat Modesto Christian, but one of how the Crusaders manage to keep their edge against the lesser teams.
"We really try to come out focused and ready to play every game, even against the smaller teams," said sophomore center Anthony Townes, who led all scorers with 28 points.
"You never underestimate any team you play. Teams like this might come in knowing that we're a better team, but they're still all coming out trying to beat us."
Riverbank (17-2, 5-1) did come right at the Crusaders, and played pretty well. The Bruins got balanced scoring, with Markus Benson and Kenny Veliz scoring 15 points apiece, Rolaun Dunham adding 13 and Armando Manriquez 10, and they showed no fear by matching up in a man-to-man defense.
"They're one of the few teams we'll see who will play us man-to-man," said MC co-head coach Richard Midgley. "Even last weekend against El Cerrito (a game won by the Crusaders 67-60 against last year's Division 3 NorCal quarterfinalist) we saw a zone all night.
"So we got to run our man offense tonight, and we started the game shooting 3s and jumpers, and then we finally established Anthony inside in the second quarter. That relieved a lot of pressure."
Once the Crusaders were able to establish their half-court game, they were able to get inside to Townes quickly and with great effect.
Riverbank stayed close to MC through the middle of the second quarter, but the Crusaders outscored the Bruins 17-4 in the final three minutes of the half to take a 44-25 halftime lead.
Townes had eight points in the quarter, while Raymond Bowles raged for 14 of his 25 points in the quarter.
"They were trying to get it to me early, to try to establish the inside game, and I'm glad they did," Townes said. "When you know you have a smaller guy on you, I'll just try to post him up and get him in foul trouble."
The Crusaders' offensive flow was so impressive, point guard T.J. Wallace didn't have to score. So he didn't, and did not appear concerned at all about getting only three shots.
Mason Washington filled-in that gap by scoring 15 points off the bench. Since he's a junior, he'll be back next season as the Crusaders shoot for the all-time state league winning streak.
In fact, MC received 62 points from players likely to return next year, which doesn't bode well for the opposition in what is likely to be the Crusaders' final season as a TVL member.
"We've worked hard to establish a program of excellence and now we're trying to continue that legacy," Midgley said. "We keep trying to get better and better each year to improve on what Coach Porter has built."