About three months ago, the Modesto Christian girls basketball team was sitting at 0-5.
Coach Robb Spencer knew then that those defeats against some of California’s best teams would help his Crusaders in March.
“I’m a firm believer that when you play against the best, it will only make you better,” he said of his team’s early December run against Bishop’s, Alemany, Canyon Springs, Archbishop Mitty and St. Mary’s of Stockton. “You can only learn from that.”
His team will get to put that experience into practice Tuesday when the most rigorous part of its schedule begins. The Crusaders, ranked No. 2 in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division 3, take on third-ranked Patterson at Cosumnes River College on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
They will be the first of nine Stanislaus District teams competing in the section semifinals and finals this week. All the teams have qualified for the following week’s Northern California Regionals.
Immediately following the Crusaders girls game at Cosumnes, the top-ranked MC boys take the floor against fourth-ranked Christian Brothers in another Division 3 semifinal at 9 p.m.
On Wednesday, the Division 5 Central Catholic boys and girls play Brookside Chrsitian in late afternoon games at Galt High. Later at Galt, the No. 3 Ripon Christian girls face No. 2 Capital Christian at 9 p.m.
Merced and Riverbank – the Stanislaus District’s only boys teams from public schools still left in the tournament – also play Wednesday. Sixth-seeded Merced has a 4 p.m. Division 1 game at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena against No. 2 Rodriguez while No. 3 Riverbank meets No. 2 Natomas in a 9 p.m. game at Lodi’s Tokay High School.
No. 3 Turlock Christian will play top-ranked Valley Christian for the Division 6 crown on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Galt High School.
One of the more intriguing matchups will be the Modesto Christian-Patterson affair, the only semifinal featuring two Stanislaus District teams.
Since a Feb. 1 loss to St. Mary’s of Berkeley, Modesto Christian has won its last six, including two in the playoffs, by no fewer than 31 points. Patterson, meanwhile, which hasn’t lost this calendar year, waltzed through the 14-game Western Athletic Conference schedule and won its two playoff games with relative ease.
After her team’s 73-55 quarterfinal victory over Weston Ranch on Thursday, Tigers coach Elizabeth Tolleson said a game with MC was “something we wanted.”
“It’s the only way we’re going to get better, by playing the best,” she said.
The Crusaders haven’t won a section title since 2011 and saw their run of reaching a section title game end at seven last year with a stinging loss to Vanden at Cosumnes River.
“Not getting there last year feeds our fire,” Spencer said.
Still, he understands that a driven, talented Patterson team looking to make a mark is dangerous.
“All the pressure is on us,” he said. “They’re hungry and we’re the hunted.”