SALIDA -- D.J. Seeley is back and Modesto Christian High is once again the team with a target on its back heading into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
The senior guard had missed three weeks with an ankle injury, but returned Friday with a 14-point effort to highlight the Crusaders' 87-45 Trans-Valley League victory over Hughson.
"I was glad to be back out there," said Seeley, whose ankle was injured when an opponent landed on it. "I need to work on everything after having been out, but especially on my conditioning.
"I'm average right now, but that's not good enough. I've got to do a lot of running and a lot of 5-on-5 work in our practices."
Seeley will face a more difficult challenge tonight when the Crusaders host Bay Area power Skyline of Oakland at 5:30 p.m. Skyline features potent guards 6-3 Kwame Vaughn (24 points per game), headed to Loyola-Marymount, and 6-2 junior Nefi Perdomo (16 points per game).
The 6-foot-3-inch Seeley, who is headed to Cal on scholarship, was averaging 18 points before he was injured. He had 10 points in the second quarter, including a 3-pointer, to help the Crusaders to a 56-21 halftime lead.
It was the 10th win in a row for MC (19-4, 13-0), The Bee's top-ranked small-school team, and it clinched the TVL title.
Winning streaks and league titles are nice, but basketball powers such as MC set higher goals.
"Our goal is a state title, and we don't care if it's Division V, IV or I," said coach Gary Porter, whose club is No. 4 in the CalHiSports.com Division IV poll.
MC played Division V the last several years, but a change in enrollment criteria bumped it up a division. That means more difficult opponents await in the Sac-Joaquin Section and Northern California playoffs.
It's also why getting Seeley on the court, with a few games to prepare for the playoffs, was at the top of Porter's to-do list.
"We've got three games, then the playoffs, so we're making up for lost time," he said. "We are playing like we're ready for the playoffs, though. Hughson gave us a game in their gym last time we played, so the kids wanted to make a statement this time."
MC escaped with a 65-58 win in Hughson two weeks ago. It was clear from the start that this game wouldn't be as close.
Reeves Nelson -- a 6-7 junior forward who has already verbally committed to UCLA -- had 20 points in the first half, while 6-3 Dabrail Henton scored 10 of his 19 points in the opening period.
Nelson, benched early in the season for his inconsistent effort, showed he's overcome that malady. With MC up 73-36, he chased his missed 3-point shot four rows deep into the stands and flung it back to the hoop -- and his freshman brother Raymond turned it into a basket.
"He's been doing it since our tournament, going all over the court to score, block shots and rebound," Porter said. "The whole team's playing this way."