SALIDA — Modesto Christian still has a lot of basketball to play this season, but after Friday's 79-40 victory over Fairfield, senior forward Raymond Bowles was asked to reflect on his four years in the program.
The reason for the introspection? Despite being the favorite to claim a Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 title and having locked up a berth in the NorCal regionals, the Crusaders likely have played their final home game this season.
"I didn't think about it until just now," said Bowles, who led the MC quarterfinal rout with 21 points. "The crowds and atmosphere have been great and it's kind of sad this was my last home game of my senior year."
Here's the scenarios that will keep the Crusaders from having another home game.
The final two games in the section playoffs are at neutral sites, starting with Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. semifinal against Weston Ranch at Cosumnes River College.
If they go ahead and win the section, they'd go into the NorCal Open Division, but at a seed that would put them on the road. If the Crusaders were to stumble and not win the section title, they'd be a road team in the NorCal Division 3 playoffs.
"We plan on winning the section," said Bowles, who then would be part of three section crowns in his four varsity campaigns at MC.
But he also has been part of something potentially more significant in the long run than any additional blue banners.
During his stint on the varsity, the focus of the Crusaders' program has shifted from the approach of "let's outscore the other team," to one that stresses defense above all.
Modesto Christian always has played pressure defense, but the upgrade in structured team defense is the early hallmark of co-head coach Richard Midgley.
"Defense started being our main focus last year, because defense is going to take us to where we need to go, which is to win games at the state level," Bowles said. "We still work on offense, but we dig down and focus on defense most of the time."
The final score might not indicate how much MC's defense dominated the game, but it did nothing less than save the day after Fairfield's quickness surprised the Crusaders in the first quarter.
"Their speed and athleticism surprised us at the start and forced us into a lot of turnovers," Midgley said. "We had 2-3 turnovers right off the bat and that really got us out of rhythm. They also hit some contested 3-point shots."
Yes, this 39-point blowout, which went to a running clock midway through the fourth quarter, was tied 16-16 after the opening eight minutes.
Fairfield (15-13) opened the game in a 2-3 zone, and was quick enough to get out to pressure the wing and take away MC's perimeter game.
The Falcons also turned some of the Crusaders' six first-quarter turnovers into baskets, so when MC started taking care of the ball in the second quarter, Fairfield's offensive spark was gone.
"We started with a lot of turnovers, which hurt us," Bowles said. "Our defense wasn't so bad. But I think we tried to rush things and ended up with those turnovers. We slowed things to start the second half and locked down on defense.
"Once we got them to start forcing bad shots, we were grabbing rebounds and pushing the pace."
The Crusaders took control of the pace and the game in the second quarter, outscoring Fairfield 11-1 over the first six minutes. And when the Falcons tried to push the tempo to open the second half, MC pounced on the opportunity by posting a 27-point quarter and take a 61-33 lead into the final eight minutes.
T.J. Wallace and Mason Washington added 10 points apiece for MC, which put 10 players in the scoring column. Sean Gray hit four 3-pointers to lead the Falcons with 12 points.
In two postseason games, MC has outscored its opponents 137-56 a rare differential for teams at the Division 3 level.
"We have a lot of individual offensive talent, so that's already there when we play as a team," Bowles said. "When we perfect our defense, we'll be pretty good."