Modesto Christian's Jamari Phillips works against Deonte Carter of Cosumnes Oaks during Wednesday night's semifinals. Photo by Samantha Schmidt

MC Crusaders aim for first holiday title in six years Thursday night

Ron Agostini

MODESTO – Jamari Phillips’ left thumb required some tape during the first half Wednesday night while his right hand – which he popped back into place nearly a month ago – still doesn’t feel right.

The talented Modesto Christian sophomore feels he has ligament damage in both hands. Sometimes, it almost looks like he takes a personal inventory as he slowly gathers himself after a fall.

“I gotta play through that,” Phillips summarized. “Play through stuff and fight with heart.”

 That’s what Phillips is doing, and it’s one of the reasons why the Modesto Christian Crusaders are in Position A to win their first MC Holiday Hoop Classic title in six years.

Phillips ignored his throbbing hands and netted 20 points as Modesto Christian fought off a scrappy Cosumnes Oaks side 74-62 in the semifinals. The Crusaders will meet Durango of Las Vegas for the championship Thursday night at 7:45.

Durango pulled away in the fourth quarter to stop Pleasant Valley of Chico 58-48 to close Wednesday night’s program.

Modesto Christian (9-1), ranked fifth in California, has won its distinguished event four times and will advance to the final for the 10th time. Richard Midgley, one of MC’s all-time greats, coached the Crusaders to their last holiday title, a victory over Long Beach Poly in 2015. He watched his former team take down Cosumnes Oaks (3-7).

This just in: The Crusaders are loaded. They go on runs, like they did in the second quarter against Cosumnes Oaks, where the points come in dizzying waves. They closed the half with a breakaway slam by BJ Davis (16 points) and a careful layup by Phillips to lead 43-23.

 Meshing such an uber-talented team is MC’s current issue. The Crusaders built a 24-point lead but couldn’t quite put away the Wolfpack from Elk Grove, which closed to within 11 with less than two minutes to go.

Phillips’ hustling baseline drive, layup and three-point play clinched the win. Though MC never was in any danger of losing, it still seeks an opening-tip-to-final buzzer performance.

“I like the way we’re playing. I’d like to see us put together a full four quarters,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. “There are runs we go on where it’s like ‘Wow.’ But then there are periods where our youth hurts us.”

Fantazia probably remembered something that will work in the Crusaders' favor regarding Phillips and his aching hands. Phillips is 15 years old.

“He (Phillips) still has to learn how to get it (the pain)out of his head while he’s playing,” Fantazia continued. “A lot of kids wouldn’t play with those injuries.”
Phillips still notched three of his team’s eight triples, as he and Davis putout a few second-half brush fires.

Mana Itete, the Crusaders’ 6-foot-6 250-pound sophomore, walked to the bench with his fourth personal foul early in the second half. Cosumnes Oaks, which stunned Vanden on a buzzer-beater to reach the semis, already was playing with house money in its holiday-classic debut.

The Wolfpack kept charging at MC with football-basketball star Deonte Carter (18 points), sophomore Ja’len Flenory (14) and junior Elias Weathers (14, all in the second half).

“That’s who we are. We don’t play by the score,” Cosumnes Oaks coach Sheridan Crite said.  “It was a test for us to see where we’re at.”

Meanwhile, MC aims --as usual – toward way-up-there goals. Short-term wise, Phillips must address his hands and his team’s special opportunity.

“It’s uncomfortable holding the ball and getting my rhythm. It’s not coming out right,” he said.   “I’d like to get my groove back so we can us a championship.”

 Yes, his groove is wider than most.

Thursday’s Program

9 a.m.:  Ripon vs.Beyer for 15th

10:30:  Bullard vs.Turlock for 13th

Noon: Edison vs. Gregori for 11th

1:30 p.m.: Bakersfield Christian vs. Clovis East for 7th

3: Clovis West vs. Vanden for 5th

4:30: Weston Ranch vs. Manteca for consolation title

6: Pleasant Valley vs. Cosumnes Oaks for 3rd

7:45: Durango vs. Modesto Christian for championship

Wednesday's Results

Modesto Christian 74, Cosumnes Oaks 62

Durango 58, Pleasant Valley 48

Clovis West 70, Bakersfield Christian 47

Vanden 70, Clovis East 50

Manteca 56, Gregori 54

Weston Ranch 71, Edison 58

Turlock 44, Ripon 31

Bullard 76, Beyer 63