SACRAMENTO — Edwin Castellanos was named the Modesto Junior College team captain only a few days before his first start, the Pirates’ Big 8 Conference opener two weeks ago.
By all accounts, Castellanos’ promotion has worked.
The sharpshooting freshman guard poured in 28 points, featuring five 3-pointers, as the Pirates continued their solid Big 8 start with a 95-87 win Friday night over American River.
Modesto (10-9, 3-1) won its third straight, an important road win against the cellar-dwelling Beavers (3-13, 0-4).
The win, however, wasn’t easy. The Pirates led by as many as 18 points but watched American River rally into an 85-85 tie with 2:18 left. Modesto answered with Zack Gonzales (12 points), driving aggressively to the basket, netting four free throws.
Josh Allen (20 points) drove and scored for a 3-point play and, with 20 seconds left, Gonzales lifted Modesto out of danger with a baseline triple and a 7-point lead.
The Pirates scored the final 11 points of the first half – five by Castellanos – for a 52-37 lead at the break. The officials whistled 48 fouls, prompting MJC’s 27 of 39 free throws. Evan Grimes, one of 11 Pirates to score, finished with 14 points.
Guard Damion Trujillo led American River with 22 points. Nazarly Yakimchuk had 18.
• ARC WOMEN 85, MODESTO JC 66 – The Pirates (6-9, 0-4) dropped their fifth in a row despite a season-high 26 points by Addie Garza. American River (9-7, 3-1) rode a 36-point performance by point guard Caresse Williams.
Garza, who missed practice Wednesday due to illness, sank 11 of 15 free throws en route to her best night of the season. She fouled out in the final minutes.
The 5-foot 5 Williams, a transfer from Chico State, proved to be too quick for MJC. She netted 11 of 14 from the line along with a trio of 3-pointers.
“We tried three different zones and a man-to-man defense against her,” MJC coach Mike Girardi said. “She is one of the best offensive players in our league.”
Williams had 20 points by halftime as American River rallied in the final minutes of the first half to lead 47-36. Modesto jumped back into contention by scoring the first eight points in the second half, but Williams slowly took charge.
Brei Castilleja overcame stiff defense by ARC en route to 15 points.
Modesto travels to Sierra next Tuesday and returns home next Friday night against Cosumnes River.