SALIDA — Gary Porter knows how Gilligan must have felt.
When Porter arrived on the Salida campus in 1996, he agreed to coach the Modesto Christian boys basketball team for one season, and it has turned into a tour that has lasted parts of three decades.
The Skipper’s little buddy never did get off the island, at least during the run of the TV series, but Porter will be able to step away from MC when he wants. Before that happens, he’ll have left behind a trail of records, most notably the 15 Sac-Joaquin Section championships (in 17 seasons) the Crusaders have claimed in 17 seasons.
The program achieved another significant mark Tuesday night. With an 85-42 victory over Ripon, Modesto Christian won its 126th consecutive league game. It’s a state boys basketball record, eclipsing the 125-game run of Fresno’s Washington Union from 1994-2006.
So after the game, Porter, a few weeks short of 60 and four wins from 500, shook hands with players current and past and posed for pictures under a balloon banner that marked his 126 consecutive league wins.
Upon taking the program, Porter led the Crusaders to back-to-back unbeaten (12-0) Southern League seasons, after which the program played as an independent for eight seasons. Modesto Christian basketball was not affiliated with any league when – led by senior Chuck Hayes – it won the 2000-01 NorCal Division 1 title, losing by three points to Mater Dei for the state crown.
The Crusaders joined the Trans-Valley League for the 2006-07 season and next season will move to the Modesto Metro Conference for both boys and girls basketball.
“I’m proud of this, and I don’t want to seem any other way,” Porter said. “It’s a great honor. We’ve had some close games and we’ve had some blowouts. It’s just that we put so much emphasis on how the season finishes later on, after the league season. We expect to win.”
In a way it’s fitting that the record-setting win would come against the Indians. The schools are separated by only three miles, and Ripon has put more scares into the Crusaders than any other TVL team. Just two seasons ago, Ripon controlled the tempo at home in dropping a 38-35 decision, then four weeks later matched MC’s up-tempo game, only to fall 76-73.
“We had a few years where we played them close and a bunch of years when it wasn’t really close,” said Ripon coach Rod Wright, whose Indians (6-18 overall, 4-6 in the TVL) still are in position to claim a Division 4 playoff berth. “Like we told the kids, we get to be in the record book if we win and we get to be in the record book if we lose.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the run has been the consistent high level of the program – not just the talent but Porter’s ability to keep the players motivated during league seasons as the Crusaders play game after game as heavy favorites.
“The other coaches say that us being in this league has raised the standard, but those coaches made me coach at times a lot harder than I wanted to,” Porter said.
On the past two Saturdays, Modesto Christian (17-8 overall and 10-0 in the TVL) has played pressure games against high-powered foes El Cerrito and Bishop O’Dowd, winning the former at home and losing the latter in Oakland. Wrapped around those games have been TVL contests against Orestimba, Hughson and now Ripon.
“It can be tough getting as up for games in league as we do for other games, like O’Dowd,” said senior guard Mason Washington. “We try to come into every game with the same mindset, and I think we do a pretty good job of that. Coach Porter has done a great job of maintaining the focus of the team from game to game because he’s always preaching that.”
The Crusaders had no problem with Tuesday’s start, going on a 21-0 run in the opening 3 minutes, 47 seconds. The lead grew to 28-9 after one quarter, 56-28 at halftime, and when Washington hit a jumper with 3:24 left in the third quarter for a 71-30 lead, it triggered the TVL 40-point rule and the rest of the game was played with a running clock.
Jeff Wu and Anthony Townes had 17 points apiece for MC, while Washington finished with 14 and Christian Ellis 11. Derek Hickman stayed active inside for the Indians, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half.
Modesto Christian’s streak will face its toughest test of the season on Friday when the Crusaders visit 20-2 Riverbank, which could earn a share of the TVL title with a win. Then, after the Crusaders close the regular season next Tuesday at home against Escalon, they’ll be on to the section playoffs and beyond – where the real history is made.
“I am proud of this, but winning streaks aren’t the reason I’m coaching,” Porter said. “Remember, I was only going to be here one year.”