The Modesto Junior College Pirates came within one defensive stop of a ringing Big 8 Conference-opening victory Tuesday night.
Santa Rosa guard Matthew Hayes destroyed the plan with one shot.
His 3-point basket, a 25-foot bomb from the wing with 32 seconds to go – and less than 10 seconds left on the timer – launched a game-ending 7-0 run and a 72-66 Santa Rosa win.
Modesto’s comeback from an 11-point second-half deficit encouraged a lively crowd at MJC Gym, but the Pirates (7-8, 0-1) couldn’t finish.
“When we come to compete like we did tonight, we’ll have a chance to win each game in league,” said MJC coach Paul Brogan, who was encouraged after his team’s poor showing Saturday night against Cabrillo. “Our guys realize that now.”
The Pirates, after trailing virtually since the opening tip, carved a 66-65 lead on Josh Allen’s open-court steal, drive and way-above-the-rim throwdown with 55.6 seconds left.
But Santa Rosa (8-6, 1-0), after a timeout, ran its half-court offense until Hayes – taking advantage of a miscommunication by the Modesto guards – measured his shot and nailed it. Hayes (18 points) accounted for four triples for the Bear Cubs, who strafed the Pirates for 10 of 22 from the arc.
MJC responded with back-to-back pointless possessions and Davone Oliver and Hayes clinched it with a pair of free throws apiece. Once again, Modesto walked away with an “almost” instead of a win.
“Santa Rosa executed, but I think we took a step forward,” MJC guard Zack Gonzales said.
It didn’t start that way. Brogan burned two timeouts before the game was barely 2 minutes old after his team came out passive and Santa Rosa jumped in front 5-0. Brogan’s screams could be heard throughout the gym.
“We were letting the shooter shoot,” Gonzales said. “That (Brogan’s tirade) woke us up.”
The matchup was filled with problems for the smaller Pirates against 6-foot-10 Santa Rosa post Luke Cochran and 6-8 backup Darin Grayer. While the Pirates fought the good fight inside, they were hurt from the perimeter by Hayes, Alec Kobre (18 points) and wing Corey Hammell (10).
Guard Edwin Castellanos led Modesto with 14 points, but its late-game comeback was keyed by Evan Grimes (11 points) and Gonzales, the latter who worked hard despite a still-sore left shoulder.
A trio of 3-pointers by Gonzales and another by Castellanos positioned Modesto, and Allen’s breakaway inched the Pirates in front. But not for long.
“We’re about ready to win,” Gonzales said. “Just get ready for Cosumnes River (the Pirates’ road game Friday night).”
• SANTA ROSA 56, MODESTO 49 – The Pirates wore long faces as they shook hands with the victorious Bear Cubs, the four-time defending Big 8 champions. For the second straight year, MJC (6-6, 0-1) extended Santa Rosa – the Pirates led 26-19 at halftime – with no reward.
This time, Santa Rosa’s 5-8 freshman Gretchen Harrigan penetrated the MJC defense for 39 points, 28 during the second half. She averages 25.5.
MJC sophomore Brei Castilleja (10 points) picked up her fourth foul with 15:05 left and MJC nursing a 32-26 lead. With Castilleja on the bench, Harrigan – an instinctive inside scorer – poured in nine straight points as her team built a 39-36 lead. The Bear Cubs (9-7, 1-0) never trailed again while Castilleja fouled out with less than a minute left.
“She (Castilleja) is our leader, a calming force,” MJC coach Mike Girardi said. “She had not fouled out all year.”
Then again, Modesto opened the Big 8 season against Santa Rosa, the league’s measuring stick. The Pirates felt some regret, due perhaps to the aggressive Bear Cubs being whistled for only four fouls during the second half or maybe just the opportunity missed. Three Pirates eventually exited due to fouls.
“I have no doubt my teammates will pick me up down the road,” said Castilleja, who dismissed Santa Rosa’s 20-6 edge in made free throws. “I’ll have to play smarter.”
Modesto was encouraged early in the game with back-to-back triples by Michelle Bibbs and Aaliyah Monroe and some off-target free throw shooting by Santa Rosa. But Castilleja was assessed her third and fourth fouls within a two-minute span early in the second half. Modesto soon went scoreless for a costly eight minutes while Harrigan went to work in the paint.
“Santa Rosa has some losses but they played the toughest nonleague schedule,” Girardi said. “I was proud of the girls. We did not back down in a physical game.”
Brianna McGinness had 10 points for Modesto and Addie Garza, a returning sophomore who remembered last year’s close call against Santa Rosa, finished with eight. Kaitlin Dadalt also had eight.
“We were almost there,” Garza said. “I think we have a chance if we play keep playing together.”