There are two seniors on the Gregori High basketball team who don’t need to look very hard for inspiration.
Todd Stewart and Tre McClellan both were sophomores on the first Jaguars varsity team two seasons ago, taking their lumps for a team that went 6-20 overall and 3-9 in the Modesto Metro Conference.
So when it came time for Gregori to make a huge step toward a playoff berth Wednesday night, guess who stepped up?
McClellan scored six points in the fourth quarter and Stewart drilled two free throws with nine seconds remaining that sealed the Jaguars’ 54-50 home court victory over Beyer.
“It’s tough to start with underclassmen, and we started out slow this season with some tough losses early in the year,” Stewart said. “We forgot about those games after learning from them and have moved forward.”
The outcome cleared up the MMC title and playoff races. Davis, which beat Enochs on Wednesday, is 8-2 in the MMC and finishes league play against the league’s bottom two teams – Modesto and Downey – with a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth in hand. Beyer, at 8-3, finishes Tuesday with a home game against Enochs, and has clinched a playoff spot.
Gregori (7-3) finishes with road games against Enochs and Modesto, and would have to lose both games to give Johansen (6-5) a shot at looking up the MMC tiebreaking scenarios.
“I think about the playoff scenarios every once in a while, and then I stop and start thinking about our next offensive possession,” Gregori coach Mike Vander Molen said.
The bottom line in all of this is that it is very, very likely that Davis, Gregori and Beyer will be the three teams emerging from the MMC, and all three are Division 2 schools.
But that’s all in retrospect – the fallout from Wednesday’s action. As far as Beyer was concerned, it went into the Gregori gym knowing that two more wins would give it no worse than a tie for the school’s first league title since 2004 and its first in the MMC.
Then, after the loss ...
“We talked about the significance of next Tuesday, how that game against Enochs plays into playoff seeding and that it’s senior night, so it has multiple levels of importance,” said Patriots coach Brandon Hellstrom. “We knew the conference was in balance tonight, and we played hard but didn’t get shots to fall at the end.”
Beyer and Gregori are very similar teams in that neither has particularly skilled players or even a designated go-to guy at the end of close games. As a result, both teams are at their best offensively when they’re attacking the basket.
The Patriots, who at 15-11 have clinched the program’s first overall winning record in seven seasons, built a nine-point lead early in the second quarter by doing exactly that – taking the ball to the hole. And even though Beyer – a vertically challenged squad – might lead the MMC in getting shots blocked, the act of constantly attacking keeps them aggressive at both ends.
So it wasn’t a coincidence that Gregori made its run late in the third quarter when Beyer suddenly fell in love with the perimeter shot, leading to a drought the Jaguars exploited to take a 36-30 lead at the end of a 10-0 run.
“Sometimes you can get intoxicated with that line,” Hellstrom said. “But if they aren’t falling, you have to turn down that shot and attack the rim.”
Trailing 52-50 in the final minute after Gregori sophomore Alex Badillo hit three free throws, Beyer went back to the slash. With 39 seconds left, guard Donovan Galloway’s drive to the basket and found a wall, and he hit a 3-footer while falling backward, only to have the potential game-tying shot waved off for a traveling violation.
After Gregori missed a free throw, Galloway got to the basket, missed a shot, and teammate Jordyn Lopez had his put-back roll off. Stewart grabbed the rebound, was fouled, and sealed the win at the line.
Stewart led Gregori with 13 points, while Cameron Evins had 10. Julian Orozco had eight of his team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter for Beyer.
“Every game is such a battle,” Vander Molen said. “It’s not always pretty, but it’s always a battle.”