SALIDA — It's been 17 years since Modesto Christian made its commitment to playing high school basketball at the elite level, and seldom – if ever – have the Crusaders had as much trouble scoring points as they did on Saturday against Archbishop Mitty.
The fastbreak so much a part of the MC attack was negated when Mitty seldom missed. The outside shooting game that has managed to keep the Crusaders close in tough matchups has been missing for the better part of the young season.
And the crowd that filled MC’s tiny gym once again? When the home team trails from wire-to-wire in what eventually becomes a 64-45 loss, well, there weren’t many hands sore this morning from applauding with too much vigor.
And so the Crusaders will miss out on winning their own tournament for the eighth straight season, which says much more about the strength of the competition they invite to participate than anything else.
“It was hard, and especially hard when they hit everything and we don’t,” said Mason Washington, a senior guard who saw his last chance to win a Holiday Hoop Classic championship fall by the wayside. “We just have to learn from this because it hurts a lot right now and it’s going to hurt for a while.”
Archbishop Mitty, which defeated MC in last year’s NorCal Open Division semifinals on its San Jose home court en route to claiming the regional crown, will play for the tourney title against the winner of Saturday's late game pitting Serra of Gardena against Monte Vista of Cupertino.
The championship game is set for Monday at 8:15 p.m., with MC facing the loser of Saturday's late game at 6:30 p.m. for third place.
The Monarchs (8-1) beat the Crusaders (4-6) in nearly every facet of the game, beating the home team to the boards, to loose balls, to the open spot. The latter was the eventual downfall of MC, which was outscored 27-6 from 3-point range.
“The frustrating thing for us is that we’re getting guys in position and we’re getting the offensive rebounds,” said co-coach Richard Midgley. “A lot of it is just staying in games because once you get down by big margins everything gets stretched and scrambled.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened to us this year. A lot of it is that we miss easy shots and we miss layups and we get down 10 points. At that point a good team will expose you and force you to try to do things even harder.”
And Mitty got out quickly, leading wire-to-wire after senior guard Ted Young hit hits first two 3-point attempts to boost the Monarchs to an 8-2 lead barely three minutes into the action.
At the other end, Mitty – exclusively in a man-to-man defense – was able to sag into the post since the Crusaders were having no luck making the defense honest by hitting from the perimeter.
“Did we hit a shot tonight?” Midgley asked rhetorically. “I don’t want to say that it’s easy to match up with us right now, but if I were a coach playing against us I’d just pack it inside.
“Other teams are crowding our post before the ball is going down there because they don’t have to respect anybody’s jump shot, and our kids are in the gym working hard on their shots every day.”
Washington, not only a senior leader but a player expected to provide much of that outside punch, chose to shoulder a lot of the blame, despite leading all scorers with 15 points.
“A lot of it is my fault and I don’t know what’s going on right now but I have to fix it,” Washington said. “I’ve never shot like this in my life. Never. I have to get back in the gym and shoot.”
Mitty connected on four 3-pointers in the final 4:40 of the second quarter to build a 35-22 halftime lead, then iced the victory by holding MC scoreless for the opening 4:03 of the third quarter, building a 41-22 cushion.
The most telling stat? Until Washington scored on a steal-and-drive with 5:57 remaining in the game, the Crusaders did not have a single fastbreak point.
“We are a run and gun team,” Midgley said. “We want to push the ball and get a layup every time. It’s hard when you’re taking the ball out of the net every time. It’s a lot easier to do against some of the opponents not as strong as Mitty.”
Anthony Townes added 10 points for MC, while Mitty got 14 points from sophomore center Ben Kone, 13 from flashy guard Matt McAndrews and 12 from J.P. Rindfleisch.
The margin of victory would indicate that there was very little the Crusaders could have done to change the outcome this time around. But next time?
“I want to play Mitty again,” Washington said. “I want to see them in the playoffs. I think we'll be ready.”