SACRAMENTO — During Modesto Christian's run to 14 section titles, the one thing in common has been the arena on which the titles have been won.
It's had different corporate names but it's the same floor and the same massive open space that's such a change from high school gyms.
Thanks to Wednesday night's 63-58 victory over Weston Ranch, the Crusaders will be playing in their 17th Sac-Joaquin Section championship game.
Officially, Friday night's Sierra vs. Modesto Christian matchup will be played at Sleep Train Arena. But around MC, they call it Chuck's House, since it's where Crusader alum Chuck Hayes plays his home games.
"It's exciting to play on that court," said sophomore center Anthony Townes. "It's like going back home for us. I know it's Chuck's home, but I think he'll let us borrow it for the night."
Same place, yes. But this Crusaders team continues to be a very different style of team than the ones preceding it to section finales.
In the victory over the Cougars, MC found itself in a situation where a controlled pace was needed, where energy needed to be spent more on defense than offense.
And it was in that game where the Crusaders excelled.
"That kind of game is a little different for us, but it allows us to sets the tone in the games where we need to battle," said co-coach Gary Porter. "We still never want to stop running, but this team has learned that there is a time to slow down, and I'll give (co-coach) Richard (Midgley) credit for teaching that."
Porter's Crusaders sprung on the local scene in 1996 with a relentless running style that pounded opponents into submission, more often than not simply by daring teams to outscore them.
Now, they dare opponents to try to score.
"I'm the coach who always says 'go,' " and Richard puts the 'stop' in the team and does a good job with that," Porter said. "All of this started in the summer because you can't just take a quarterhorse and slow him down."
Making things difficult for MC in this matchup was a Weston Ranch team (21-9) that also qualifies in anybody's horserace.
The trio of Dylan Alexander (21 points,) Eric Duncan (19) and Davieon Leverett, who had nine points while battling foul trouble, gave the Cougars floor balance that gave MC fits through the middle of the third quarter.
Weston Ranch opened the second half on a 9-1 run with Leveret and Alexander scoring four points apiece to take a 39-34 lead that MC was able to whittle down to one point late in the quarter.
But MC senior guard T.J. Wallace went coast-to-coast for a layup as the clock expired to gave the Crusaders a 47-46 lead. He would finish with 14 points, while Townes and Mason Washington added 13 apiece and freshman Christian Ellis added 11.
Wallace's buzzer-beater seemed to be the moment that cued the Modesto Christian defense, which held Weston Ranch scoreless for the opening 5:12 of the fourth quarter, or long enough for MC to pull away to a 55-46 advantage.
The Cougars would pull no closer than five points the rest of the way as the teams continued their spirited series. Weston Ranch beat Modesto Christian twice during the 2011-12 season, but MC has returned the favor twice this season.
"They know what we're going to do, and we know what they do, so we just go out and play," Townes said.
And now they get to play at Arco, er, Power Balance, er Chuck's House.
SIERRA 43, CASA ROBLE 39, at Sacramento Eric Melgar and Guillermo Nunez scored 13 points apiece, but the Timberwolves (26-5) won this on defense by holding the Rams (24-7) to a season-low point total.
Casa Roble had all the advantage inside, with 6-feet, 10-inch senior Eric Stuteville and his 6-9 junior brother Mason Stuteville, but Sierra did what it could to keep the Casa Roble guards from having an easy time feeding the post.
"It was a tough matchup for us, obviously, with their size, but we just wanted to get after their guards with our quickness," said Sierra coach Scott Thomason.
The Timberwolves held the Rams scoreless for the opening 5:29 of the third quarter and overall limited Casa Roble to 16 second-half points. The Stuteville brothers did their damage, with Eric scoring 19 and Mason 12, but the Rams had no supporting cast.
"For us to grind out a win like this, and not really play well offensively and to not shoot well, really makes me proud," said Thomason, who will be seeing his first section crown after previous title game losses in 2001 and 2012.
"We're obviously going to have to play better on Friday night," Thomason said. "I can't wait."