Edwin Castellanos did not like the feel of his 25-footer as it left his hands.
His triple from the right side veered to the right and appeared to have no chance – until it kissed the glass and caromed through the net. The clever Modesto Junior College guard didn’t call that bounce, and the Pirates do not care.
That little bit of hoops benevolence – a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 1:53 left in overtime – paid off with a 98-89 win Tuesday night that keeps Modesto front-and-center in the Big 8 Conference fight for a playoff berth.
“It was off all the way, but I’m glad my teammates had confidence in me,” Castellanos said. “Zack (teammate Zack Gonzales) called that play for me. He had confidence in me, and I have confidence in him.”
American River (3-20, 0-11), a team better than its record – it nearly beat league-leading Cosumnes River last week – pushed MJC (13-13, 6-5) to the max. But for the second time this season, the Beavers couldn’t handle Castellanos, who torched them for 30 points, two more than his big night at ARC on Jan 17.
His fortunate bank-shot launched Modesto on a 10-0 run that decided everything. The Pirates outscored ARC 19-10 in overtime.
“American River played well. We just made the plays when we needed them,” MJC coach Paul Brogan said.
The win was a must for Modesto, because the Big 8 is twisted into an oversized big pretzel at the top with three games left. Cosumnes River and Santa Rosa are tied for first at 9-2. MJC, Diablo Valley and Delta all are tied for second at 6-5.
Modesto welcomes Sierra, fresh off its upset win over Cosumnes River, for the Pirates’ final home game Thursday night.
The Pirates seemed to survive the storm against American River when Josh Allen crash-tipped home a miss by Keegan Sanchez with 38 seconds left in regulation. It was the fifth slam of the second half by Allen, who finished with 20 points, and it jumped the Pirates’ lead to 79-76.
But American River guard Damion Trujillo (29 points), his red sweatband hanging low on his forehead, shocked the Pirates with his driving basket as he was fouled by Sanchez with 4.9 seconds left.
Trujillo suffered a cramp on the play and was unable to shoot the tying free throw. By rule, Brogan was allowed to select any ARC player for the important shot. He opted for Keishaun Sinclair, who averages barely 50 percent for the season. Sure enough, he connected to push the game into overtime.
The episode illustrated how hard uphill MJC was forced to climb. The Pirates lost starting guard Eric Melgar to an ankle injury with 4:54 left in the half and only seconds after he hit his second straight triple.
Fortunately for Modesto, it dug into its bench for help from Sanchez (10 points) and Julius Dixon (five).
“I was pleased the way Keegan and Julius stepped up in Eric’s absence,” Brogan said. “It was a team win.”
MJC caught a break in OT when Trujillo missed all but the final seconds of OT. That, combined with Castellanos’ kiss, delivered the much-needed win.
“We had to have it, not other question about it,” Allen said. “It was win or go home.”
Home turned out to be a kind place this night for the Pirates.
• AMERICAN RIVER 57, MODESTO JC 52 – The Pirates’ somber faces at the post-game handshake line told the story. A good chance for their first Big win eluded them.
Modesto (6-16, 0-11), winless since Dec. 22, led 36-28 with 16 minutes left. The offense went almost silent the rest of the way, however, as American River (10-13, 4-7) – near the bottom of the conference standings with MJC – caught and overtook the home team.
The Pirates managed only three baskets from the floor in the final 16 minutes and only four in all during the second half. That’s why they’ve lost 12 in a row.
“It was there for the taking,” MJC sophomore Bei Castilleja said. “We ran our offense. We didn’t put the ball in the basket.”
Some factors worked in Modesto’s favor. The Pirates connected on 17 of 22 free throws, but four of their misses happened during the final four minutes. Conversely, the Beavers (10-13, 4-7) kept MJC close by making only 16 of 32.
Modesto drove aggressively to the basket and dished to teammates for layups. The result was an 8-0 run during the first half that led to a 32-26 advantage at the break.
The Pirates missed chances to increase the lead to double digits early in the second half, however, and American River countered. A 13-0 rally, keyed by Caresse Williams (20 points) and Lazlynne Macklin (16 points), put ARC ahead to stay.
Addie Garza continued her hot late-season run with 18 points for Modesto.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we take the lessons we learn and move on,” Castilleja said. “This is what I expect from this team tomorrow.”