The Modesto Christian boys basketball team has had very few games this year where all five starters have played.
The trend continued Friday as senior forward Tsotne Tsartsidze missed the Crusaders’ CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff game against Capital Christian with a sprained ankle.
They did, however, return senior forward Aaron Murphy (shin splints) and senior guard Earv Knox (head injury) and both provided major impacts in Modesto Christian’s 81-52 win. Murphy, a UC Davis signee, had 19 points and 13 rebounds while Knox added 12.
Modesto Christian (24-6) will travel to face Folsom (25-5) on Wednesday in the semifinals.
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“We have recently been having our best practices of the year and we are finally start to get healthy,” Crusaders coach Brice Fantazia said.
Murphy, who has missed multiple games this year with a variety of injuries, had seven of the first nine points for Modesto Christian as the Crusaders bullied the Cougars (17-12) in the paint in the first quarter. The Crusaders scored 20 of their first 23 points in the paint.
“We all know what he (Aaron) is capable of when he is healthy and he got us off to a great start everybody just fed off of him,” Fantazia said. “We got a lot of weapons and when we are playing together, we get results like tonight.”
Junior forward Alex Merkviladze had 15 points and 12 rebounds, most of which came in front of the basket on high-percentage shots.
The leading scorer on the night was MC junior guard Michael Pearson, who had 20 points.
“The bigs opened up the lanes for me and our shooters were shooting it well from outside,” Pearson said. “It opened up the paint for me to drive and be able to create.”
Pearson exploited one-on-one matchups by going by opposing defenders and getting easy layups.
Said Fantazia: “There are very few guards that can stay in front of him.”
Senior Trey Jones led Capital Christian with 14 points.
Modesto Christian showed on Friday what it’s capable of, a team with multiple weapons that doesn’t rely on one player.
“Guys are starting to see the magnitude of what is at stake,” Fantazia said. “We are the defending section champions and we don’t want to lose that title. They are coming out and playing like every possession matters.”
Ripon Christian 73, Mariposa 64: Junior guard Jacob Van Groningen had 21 points while sophomore guard William Gilbert had 18 points.
Central Catholic 47, El Camino 45: El Camino missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the defending Div. III champion Raiders (22-8) advanced to the semifinals, where they will face Wood.
Wood 50, Beyer 48: The Patriots (21-9) fell to the No. 2 seed.
Ripon 79, Mountain House 58: The Indians (19-11) led 44-23 at halftime in Div. IV and will face Liberty Ranch next Wednesday. Senior center Vincent Olmo had 28 points and 18 rebounds for Ripon.
Sonora 68, Foothill 52: Sonora (25-4) will host West Campus in the next round.
Big Valley Christian 66, Forest Lake Christian 58: The Lions (17-9) will host No. 8 seed Turlock Christian in the semifinals on Wednesday.