Saturday marked the sixth time Modesto Christian High School’s boys and girls basketball programs captured Sac-Joaquin Section banners in the same season.
The reward for such an impressive feat? Perilous road games in the Open Division in the Northern California Regional tournament, which tips off Wednesday for Stanislaus District teams Patterson, Ripon Christian, Argonaut and Turlock Christian girls, and Manteca and Mariposa boys. Open Division play gets underway Friday. Sierra’s boys are off until Saturday.
For the girls, calling their first-round opponent treacherous is an understatement. It’s virtually fatal.
The Crusaders (27-4) draw St. Mary’s (31-1), the eight-time reigning Sac-Joaquin Section champion that is ranked No. 2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 3 in the nation by USA Today.
When you consider that Kimball, a previously undefeated team Modesto Christian demolished by 37 points in the section final, received a first-round bye and the No. 4 seed in the Division II regional; and that Vanden, a team the Crusaders beat by 10 on Feb. 7, got the top seed and a bye in D-III, there’s really no other conclusion to be reached: The defending state champs got slapped in the face.
“Yeah, I don’t see it any other way,” said Modesto Christian coach Robb Spencer, whose team lost to St. Mary’s 92-66 in Stockton on Jan. 10. “But this is the big stage, and for you to be nominated to play in the Open Division says that you’re one of the top eight teams in Northern California. So you take that and go with it. We’ve never shied away from anybody, and this is just another test.”
Meanwhile, the Modesto Christian boys find themselves in a similar situation after beating Sacramento 49-46 for the D-II section championship.
The Crusaders (28-3) get the seventh seed in the Open Division, where they’ll face No. 2 Monte Vista (27-3) of Danville, the defending D-I state champion.
Meanwhile, vanquished Sacramento got a cushy No. 1 seed and first-round bye in the D-II bracket from the seeding committee, made up of the state’s 10 section commissioners.
Another slap in the face?
“Not really,” said Modesto Christian boys coach Richard Midgley, who played for the Crusaders when they reached the 2001 Division I state final. “We work so hard year-round, I really believe no program in the state of California puts in more hours than we do. This is why we do what we do. This is why we lift weights at 6 a.m. We put in tons of hours, and we have a small opportunity to do something special. This is special.
“I like the matches we have and, hopefully, we can make a run.”
Should the Crusaders get past the Mustangs in Friday’s opener – they’ve won road games each year since the CIF went to an Open Division in 2013 – they would likely face Moreau Catholic (Hayward) in the second round.
Modesto Christian lost to Moreau Catholic in what was essentially a home game for the Mariners: a 59-51 setback at the Winter Classic at Chabot College in Hayward. However, the Crusaders played without 6-foot-8 big man Robinson Idehen.
A win there would likely pit Modesto Christian against new rival Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland), the No. 1 team in the state that has faced the Crusaders in each of the last two regionals.
While Modesto Christian could have fared better with the selection committee, two San Joaquin County teams did just fine.
Ripon Christian’s girls (16-7), despite losing the D-V section final, garnered the No. 8 seed and will host San Domenico (22-6) of San Anselmo.
Sierra’s boys (29-2), fresh off the school’s first section basketball crown, are seeded No. 3 in D-III and have a first-round bye, awaiting the winner of the matchup between No. 6 Archbishop Riordan (San Francisco) and No. 11 Albany.
Turlock Christian’s girls (20-9) are seeded No. 6 in Division VI, and with that draw comes the unenviable trip to Ferndale in Humboldt County.
“We’ll leave Wednesday morning from school at 8 and stay the night,” said coach Edwin Santiago, who estimates the trip will take in excess of seven hours, factoring in stops along the way. “We’re trying to stay as positive as we can, but that’s the draw and we’ll embrace it. … If we play our best, we’ll have no regrets.”