Peter Vargas didn’t want to tell his players.
In this day of social media, Downey’s girls basketball coach knew they’d find out soon enough – probably within minutes of walking out of the gym following their 61-40 victory over Johansen last Thursday.
Why spoil their Senior Night, he reckoned.
“We needed Modesto Christian to score 91 on Beyer,” said Vargas, whose team was battling for the Modesto Metro Conference’s third and final playoff spot. “They only scored 78, so we’re done.”
Done, as in no mathematical chance to reach the playoffs. But there still is one game remaining in the Lady Knights’ season.
Downey hosts Beyer tonight at 7:15. The Patriots almost assuredly will get the Modesto Metro Conference’s No. 3 playoff seed behind Enochs and league champ Modesto Christian. That will be finalized tonight.
But up until Thursday, the Lady Knights were counting on beating the Patriots in the finale (and Enochs beating Gregori) to create a three-way tie for third place. The team with fewer points allowed against MC and Enochs would get the No. 3 seed.
Even if the Lady Knights (12-12) lose and finish the season one game below .500, this season marks a turning point in the program’s fortunes, having won more games this year than in the previous three combined.
Prior to Vargas’ arrival last season, Downey was 19-170 in the previous eight seasons. The Lady Knights were 4-22 last year, but Vargas would tell anybody who’d listen that something special was happening.
Then again, that’s Vargas’ style.
“Pete is the most motivating guy ever,” said former MC boys coach Gary Porter, for whom Vargas served as an assistant for five seasons. “When you’re down, he’s got you. When he was coaching with us, we’d chew out the kids and leave it to him to pick them up again.”
Just ask sophomore point guard Deja Acosta about that.
On Tuesday, the Lady Knights were blown out of their own gym 65-5 by Modesto Christian. For a team battling for a playoff spot, it was a crippling and humiliating defeat.
Afterward, in the locker room, Acosta – a player that Vargas says he’ll lean heavily upon in the future – took the loss exceptionally hard.
“We had our talk at halftime, as usual, and Coach could tell I was upset,” said Acosta, who was choking back tears as her team trailed 48-4 at the break. “He called me up to the front and asked me to give him a hug. He told me that we’re going to fix this and that I didn’t need to worry about it anymore.”
Despite having never played the game – he was a football player at Mt. Eden High in Hayward – Vargas has been part of the local basketball tapestry for more than 15 years.
“I’m just a football player who fell in love with the game of basketball,” said Vargas, a New York City native – Brooklyn, to be exact – who moved with his family to California when he was 9.
He started coaching in these parts back in the late 1990s, where he headed the girls program at Calvary Temple.
“I started that program with eight players, and I lost my first game there 72-2,” said Vargas, who was the JV boys at Enochs before signing on at Downey. “I looked at my assistant after that game and said, ‘What are we doing?’ ”
All Vargas did was lead Calvary Temple to a league championship the very next season,. It’s that kind of turnaround he’s trying to bring about at Downey.
“Honestly, I never worry about the wins,” said Vargas. “I want to be in the hunt every year. I want to be competitive and and I want to raise the overall level of girls basketball in the Central Valley.”
Senior Hailey Harbin thinks Vargas is capable of doing exactly that.
“I wish Vargas would have come during my sophomore year so I could have had another year with him,” said Harbin. “He’s motivated us outside of basketball, to be better than we already are.
“He’s not just a coach ... he’s a friend.”