As far as sophomore nights go, this one played to a perfect script.
Everybody on the team played ample minutes and everybody scored more than once. And since the game was a blowout, there was no shortage of high-fives and jolly times on the bench.
One major problem. It was a night for Modesto Junior College to be honoring its athletes playing their last home game, and it was Sierra doing all the celebrating in Thursday’s 80-54 blowout win.
In a game that was as much of a must-win as MJC has faced in a while, the Pirates fell flat. Playing with point guard Eric Melgar, who sprained his ankle in Modesto’s overtime victory on Tuesday, the Pirates played with heart but with no focus.
They looked at times as if they were going more for individual style points than baskets, executing daring and often reckless drives to the basket that more often than not didn’t find the net.
“Rebounding and hustle,” said Anthony Hubbard, a sophomore from Turlock High who led MJC with 14 points. “We tried to come out with intensity but sometimes teams just have your number. They’re not more athletic than we are, but sometimes that just happens.”
Sierra, which stands in seventh place in the Big 8, swept the series with Modesto and improved to 10-16 overall and 4-8 in conference play.
The Pirates, who finish the regular season with games at Cosumnes River and Diablo Valley, are in fourth place in the Big 8 at 6-6, one game behind Delta College.
As much as this loss hurt MJC (13-14 overall,) it still wasn’t a fatal blow. As one of the power conferences in Northern California, the Big 8 routinely places at least half its membership in the regional tournament. And if Modesto finds a way to beat DVC (also 6-6 in conference) in the season finale, it would be no worse than the Big 8’s fourth seed.
“We’re not out of it,” said Pirates coach Paul Brogan. “We still have two games left and they’re both big. We can still do it.”
But they’ll have to come with more than they showed against the Wolverines.
Modesto never led, and partly because of Sierra’s size advantage never got any kind of inside game going, with center Josh Allen limited to six points.
It meant the Pirates would have to survive on the perimeter, and that just wasn’t going to happen. Zach Gonzales hit three 3-points and finished with 11 points, while Hubbard added two shots from behind the arc. It wasn’t nearly enough.
“We couldn’t rebound, we couldn’t make free throws or 3s and we couldn’t defend,” Brogan said. “We really couldn’t do anything.”
Sierra got 10 points, all inside, from Khalil Foster, a 6-feet, 5-inch freshman from Elk Grove’s Cosumnes Oaks, to sail to a 40-24 halftime lead.
Modesto did what it could to try to ignite the offense, but the run that would pull them close never came and the deficit in the second half never got out of double digits.
Credit Pagos Trunyan, a sophomore guard from Cordova, for keeping the Pirates at bay. He drilled three second-half 3-pointers – each longer than the last – to cap a 14-point effort.
Then, with the victory in hand, Sierra ended the game on a 13-0 run against a thoroughly beaten MJC team.
“It’s tough because we needed this one and it’s tough on the sophomores,” Hubbard said. “It’s the same feeling on a night like this as you get with a senior night in high school.”
Sierra 72, Modesto 38 – The Wolverines continued their march toward a high seed in the NorCal playoffs with a convincing victory, taking control during an overpowering first half.
The Pirates (6-17 overall, 0-12 Big 8) opened the game on a competitive streak and trailed only 10-9 with 14:43 left in the first half. But Sierra (19-8, 8-4) chose that point to start dominating, holding MJC scoreless for the next 6:18 while pulling away to a 24-9 lead.
The Wolverines, in a battle with Cosumnes River for third place in the conference, extended the margin to 40-20 by halftime before cruising to the win. Despite a likely finish out of the league’s top two, Sierra should be in line for a first-round home game thanks to their No. 9 statewide and No. 5 NorCal ranking.
Dakota McLarnan led the Wolverines with 15 points, while Addie Garza had 15 for Modesto.