MJC Pirates reel in San Joaquin Delta in final minutes

ragostini@modbee.comJanuary 14, 2014 

Modesto Junior College’s 10-point lead in the second half vanished. A bushel of unforced turnovers thrust San Joaquin Delta into a four-point lead with less than three minutes left. The pace belonged to the tempoed-down Mustangs.

Against that prelude, the Pirates countered.

Modesto reversed it all with defense – team defense – and the result was a pleasing 68-63 Big 8 Conference win Tuesday night. The momentum MJC (9-9, 2-1) gained from Anthony Hubbard’s buzzer-beating triple for a win last week at Sacramento carried over at MJC Gym.

“It was a team effort, a team win,” said Zack Gonzales, MJC’s leading scorer with 17 points.

The 11th-hour comeback was incremental, a play-by-play building block born of hard work. Delta (7-8, 1-2), minus its top scorer Nicolus Guzman (injury), managed only a layup after it led 61-57 with 3:40 left.

From that point, Modesto responded thus:

• A five-second violation beneath the Delta basket, followed by a pair of free throws by Josh Allen (14 points).

• A turnover in the full-court press, followed by a game-tying drive and score by Edwin Castellanos.

• Gonzales’ clean block of Elijah Lewis’ jump shot, followed by Gonzales’ finish and a 63-61 Modesto lead with 1:15 left.

• Seconds later, an inbounds interception by Eric Melgar, who alertly crashed the ball off a Delta defender for another important possession – two free throws by Hubbard with 35 seconds to go.

“I think they believe they’re going to win,” coach Paul Brogan said. “If we can play with that sense of urgency, we’ll be OK.”

The roots of that win were planted at Sac when Joel Ruble, with 0.9 left and Modesto two points behind, inbounded to Hubbard in the corner for the clutch triple. Entire seasons turn on such plays, and the Pirates reveled like it was New Year’s.

“It wasn’t just the shot. It was the celebration,” Hubbard said. “The bonding is what brings us together.”

Hubbard, a streaky shooter who burned Sacramento for 29 points, scored 13 against Delta. As the final seconds of the first half ticked away, Hubbard drained a triple from the top of the key for Modesto’s 41-36 lead.

The Pirates, lacking size against Delta – 6-foot-6 Jerrel Green dented MJC’s interior for four slams and 16 of Delta’s first 21 points – eventually picked up the pace. Gonzales’ layup and 3-pointer to start the second half upped the lead to 46-36.

Modesto then went silent on offense as the Mustangs’ dribble-drive attack accelerated and outscored the Pirates 19-4 for the next 15 minutes. Fortunately for the home team, it saved its best play for the right time.

Green finished with 20 points, though Modesto’s team defense improved against him in the second half. Alex Simmons netted four triples for 15 points for the Mustangs.

“Their tempo got us out of sync. They threw us out of wack,” Brogan said. “We do have some depth and a lot of guys who can step up without us losing anything.”

Indeed, Gonzales did not score during the second half at Sacramento yet anchored Modesto against Delta. Hubbard, torrid four nights ago, poured in fewer points but still delivered late.

“I play with 100 percent confidence,” Hubbard said. “Confidence is never a problem with me.”

If that quality spreads throughout the locker room, Modesto could become a major player in the Big 8.

Women’s Basketball

• DELTA 62, MJC 50 – Delta’s overpowering press dictated a 28-8 game-starting run that all but settled it. The final score was slightly misleading in that the Mustangs (13-5, 1-2) maintained the 20-point lead with 6:30 left before a closing Modesto rally.

The Pirates (8-10, 0-3), perhaps feeling the after-effects of blowing a 10-point lead in the final seven minutes en route to an overtime loss at Sacramento, wilted against Delta’s early pressure.

Delta intimidated Modesto – with its five new starters this season – and the Mustangs took charge immediately. In fact, a hoop and two free throws by Addie Garza was all the Pirates managed on offense in the first 9 1/2 minutes.

“We had to come out with more intensity and be ready for that pace. They threw us off,” said Garza, Modesto’s leading scorer with 12 points. “We calmed down in the second half.”

Modesto’s Cassidy Davis came off the bench and hit a trio of triples in the second half for 10 points. Brei Castilleja also had 10 points, but Delta pulled away during the first half while she sat on the bench in foul trouble.

The Pirates stabilized in the second half but never seriously threatened Delta.

“I let them know I was disappointed at halftime. We’re better than that. We were playing on our heels,” MJC coach Mike Girardi said. “I was proud of how we fought in the second half.”

Delta, which opened the Big 8 with close losses to solid teams in Santa Rosa and Sierra, featured former Grace Davis star Kelci Hauter with 18 points. The 5-10 Hauter found a hole along the MJC baseline and drilled four 3-pointers, three of them during the first half.

Bryce Ford, a Ceres High graduate, had nine points, all during the second half.

“We’ll keep grinding it out,” Girardi said. “When the other team traps, we need to keep our cool, pass and get good shots like we did in the second half.”

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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