It's going to be a new Northern California boys basketball championship for Gary Porter and his Modesto Christian Crusaders.
For the first time in five years, their opponent isn't The Branson School of Ross. And for the first time in a six-year run of making the NorCal finals, the game isn't at Stockton's San Joaquin Delta College.
While the opponent and the location have changed, the importance has not.
Modesto Christian plays St. Mary's of Albany in the CIF Northern California Regional Division IV championship game tonight at 7 at Folsom High School.
The game was moved from Delta College because that school's women's basketball team is still alive in the state regional playoffs.
"I've got no problems with that," said Porter, MC's head coach. "We haven't had the best of times at Delta recently."
They lost to Branson in the last three NorCal finals. The last two years were especially tough, when the Crusaders brought favored teams to Delta and fell in those two games by a combined four points.
The Crusaders aren't playing Branson because they moved up to Division IV this year. In the Division V game, Branson plays Lick-Wilmerding of San Francisco for the crown.
In Branson's place is St. Mary's, a team that has a lot of similarities with the Crusaders.
Both teams like to run, which puts the NorCal Division IV scoring record (142 combined points) in jeopardy.
It's a record that's sure to fall, said Kennedy of Richmond standout Jonathan Williams. Williams' Eagles lost 87-72 to MC in the NorCal semifinals. They lost four times to Bay Shore League rival St. Mary's this season.
"That's going to be a great game," he said. "Modesto Christian's going to have to shut the paint down, make sure St. Mary's stays back to make sure and get the rebound. Otherwise, they're going to be off to the races."
When the Panthers run, Williams said, any player is capable of filling the lane.
"By the time you blink, they're at halfcourt," Williams said. "You have to guard all three guys, or they're going to find the open one."
The Panthers (32-1) are led by UC Santa Barbara-bound brothers Will and Chris Brew. But, said Palma of Salinas coach Paul Alioto, they're all dangerous on both sides of the court.
"I'd call St. Mary's the favorite just because of their relentless defense," Alioto said. "They're the best defensive team we played all year. But if Reeves Nelson gets going inside, that's going to be a big counter to their attack."
Regardless of the final outcome, Alioto said, he's looking forward to seeing it.
"That'll be one of the best Division IV games they've had in a long time," he said. "Those teams will have so many athletes on the court."