The Cosumnes River Hawks walked into Modesto Junior College Gym and, for 90 minutes Friday night, took full ownership.
The Pirates, for all their efforts, were powerless against them.
The Hawks, ranked fifth in Northern California and eighth in the state, returned the keys to the home team but not before their impressive 97-68 Big 8 Conference win was completed.
The game all but belonged to Cosumnes River (18-4, 6-0) before the teams departed for halftime. Only Lassen and Chabot have beaten the Hawks (each twice), and the Big 8’s most lethal offense gashed Modesto (10-11, 3-3) both inside and on the perimeter.
The Pirates, their momentum stopped by two losses this week, trailed by 14 points after the first eight minutes and did not recover. Cosumnes poured in 11 triples, dominated the paint and looked every bit the part of a conference leader.
“Teams are coming in (to the MJC gym) with a lot of confidence against us,” MJC coach Paul Brogan said. “The only way to change that is to know that the beginning of the game sets the tone.”
All the tone-setting was dictated by the visitors. They went 3-1 here last month for consolation-title honors from the MJC Tournament, and they appeared to be familiar with their surroundings.
Jaycob Velasco, Cosumnes’ full-bearded 6-foot-7 265-pound post, hardly needed his Big-8 leading 18.5-point average. He settled for 14 points, but guards A.J. Bridges covered with 23 points and a trio of 3-pointers as the Hawks opened a 55-28 lead at the break.
Modesto could not match up with the quickness of Bridges or guard Rodney Cook, who broke down the MJC defense with drives to the basket. Mitchell Love, a Cosumnes River reserve who averages only five points a game, joined the party with 14 points.
Cosumnes River shot 56 percent from the floor during the first half and virtually rendered the second half moot.
“When we shoot it, we’re pretty hard to guard,” Hawks coach James Giacomazzi said. “We got a pretty good rhythm and flow going.”
Meanwhile, MJC scorers Josh Allen and Edwin Castellanos labored through off-nights. Zack Gonzales fought hard in the second half en route to 11 points while Anthony Hubbard and Evan Grimes also clocked in with 11.
But on a night Modesto had to be almost perfect, it wasn’t.
“For whatever reason, we shoot a low percentage at home,” Brogan said.
• COSUMNES RIVER 61, MODESTO JC 46 – Each time the Pirates needed a basket as they fought uphill against Cosumnes River, they watched the ball fall off the rim. Unable to sustain the rally, they stumbled to their sixth straight Big 8 loss.
Modesto (7-10, 0-6) hustled on defense and built a wall around Cosumnes River post Janie Myles, the former Pirate who’s averaging 21.5 points a game. Myles eventually finished with 16 hard-earned points.
Cosumnes River guard Jade Sowell-Hundon took advantage of the MJC pressure on Myles, however, and dented the Pirates for 26 points and five 3-pointers.
Myles, an Illinois native and former Wisconsin resident, starred for Modesto two years ago. She sat out last year and transferred to Cosumnes River where she is closer to relatives who helped her financially. None of the present-day Pirates were teammates of Myles in 2012.
Nevertheless, her exit left Modesto fans wondering what last year’s 17-12 MJC team could have done with Myles producing in the paint.
“It was a joy to come back. I had some great times here,” Myles said. “Each game is competitive and hard. Modesto is a competitive team.”
MJC scored the game’s first four points, then submitted to a 14-0 Cosumnes River run ignited by a pair of 3-pointers by Sowell-Hundon. Modesto spent the rest of the night in full chase – often succeeding on defense but unable to convert at the other end.
The Pirates cut a 12-point deficit to 37-32 after a fall-away 10-footer in the key by Kaitlin Dadalt midway through the second half. The Hawks (9-10, 2-4) responded with two free throws by Myles and a 3-pointer by Sowell-Hundon and pulled away.
The Pirates netted only one triple – by Cassidy Davis – and made five of 10 free throws. Simply, Modesto lacked the offense, if not the hustle, to get its first league win.
Brei Castilleja, the Pirates’ leading scorer with 12 points, believes the first win is not far away.
“It’s hard to weather the storm when our shots aren’t going in,” she said. “I’m still proud of our team. It seems like we’re right there. We have to find what it takes to get us over the hump.”
If it’s any consolation to the Pirates, all six Big 8 teams who’ve beaten them are ranked in the top 13 in Northern California.