AMERICAN CANYON — Modesto Christian High girls basketball coach Robb Spencer never doubted it for a minute.
Even though his team trailed by 17 points late in the third quarter, the Crusaders rallied for a thrilling, 58-56 come-from-behind victory over Enterprise (Redding) to claim the CIF Division 3 Northern California regional title at American Canyon High School.
Seeded No. 2 in the NorCal tournament, Modesto Christian (26-8) advances to face Santa Barbara (30-5), the No. 1 seed in the Southern California tourney that beat Santa Margarita 58-48. They’ll play Friday at 2 p.m. at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.
“We’ve been talking about it since Day 1 – we just refuse to lose,” said Spencer, who advances to his third state championship game in 13 seasons as MC’s head coach. “It just shows the composure of this team; we never doubted ourselves. … I’m so proud of them.”
Even though Spencer never doubted his team, at least one player was starting to doubt herself.
“I myself, maybe a little bit,” said Lexi Tubbs, who had just three points entering the fourth quarter, none of those coming after the game’s opening two minutes. “In my team … not once.”
Her teammates – most notably Stephanie Moore (18 points) and Jasmine Hampton (12 points) – carried the Crusaders until Tubbs centered herself.
With Modesto Christian trailing 56-55 with just over a minute to play, Stephanie Moore crashed through the lane and put in the go-ahead basket.
“In the third quarter I was thinking, ‘We are not about to let this go,’ ” said Moore, a sophomore. “I just kept thinking, ‘OK, we need to work harder.’ And every play we just hustled.”
Moore was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw, and the Hornets headed upcourt looking to regain the lead. However, they turned the ball over and MC held the lead and the ball with 30.6 seconds to play.
Even though the Crusaders could essentially run down the clock without shooting – the girls have a 30-second shot clock – Enterprise chose not to foul.
“The thinking was that we were quicker and faster and, playing man defense, we could get a turnover,” said Hornets coach Ray Hermann, whose teams have won 57 games the past two seasons. “They’d made quite a few foul shots in a row, so I didn’t want to put them on the line right away.”
Hampton found herself trapped in the corner with about 10 seconds remaining, and MC called timeout.
Almost immediately after the ball was inbounded, Tubbs was fouled.
If Tubbs’ confidence was shaken, she never showed it standing on the stripe.
The senior, who will play at Northwest Nazarene University next season, calmly swished the first free throw to make it 58-56.
She missed the second; Enterprise rebounded but was unable to get off a shot as the final eight seconds ran off the clock.
Tubbs scored 10 in the fourth quarter, none more important than her layup with 90 seconds left that tied the score at 55.
But let’s back up briefly.
Enterprise led 38-30 with 5:04 to play in the third quarter when 6-foot senior center Jordan Kimbrough went to the bench with her fourth foul.
So how did the Crusaders respond to this bit of good fortune? By allowing the Hornets to stretch the lead to 17 with 46 ticks left in the third.
Surely, MC’s coach had to be nervous at this point.
“I wasn’t nervous, I was irritated because we didn’t take advantage of it,” said Spencer.
The Crusaders actually waited until Kimbrough re-entered the game to start their run.
Tubbs showed signs of life by opening the fourth quarter with a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer.
Modesto Christian crept within 54-44 and then, out of nowhere, embarked on a 14-2 run to close the game.
Meagan Warwick, who hit the Sac-Joaquin Section title-clinching free throws against Florin earlier this month, nailed a pair to make it 54-46. Enterprise fouled MC on the inbounds play, and Moore hit another pair to make it a six-point game, 54-48.
Moments later, Moore was fouled again. She hit the first and missed the second, but Tubbs was there for the put-back to make it 54-51 with just over three minutes to play.
After an Enterprise free throw stretched the lead back to four, Moore hit a jumper in the lane to make it 55-53.
Enterprise missed a shot on its ensuing possession and Hampton came through with the biggest of her eight rebounds. Tubbs got the ball on the wing and soared in for the tying layup, setting up the most exciting 90 seconds in school history.
Candice White, the junior guard who’s played the last two games after sitting out all season with a knee injury, chipped in with 2 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes of action. Her contributions were important given that starting point guard Ashley Lucas was in street clothes, nursing a sprained ankle.
“This means so much to me,” said White. “When I wasn’t playing, I didn’t feel like I was contributing.
“But we love each other and we play for each other.”