The Modesto Christian Crusaders hold up three fingers in celebration of their historic Sac-Joaquin Section Championship three-peat (Samantha Schmidt).

Three-Peat! Modesto Christian grinds past Lincoln for 3rd straight SJS title

Ron Agostini

SACRAMENTO—If anyone thinks the Modesto Christian Crusaders take these Sac-Joaquin Section titles for granted, think again.

As the final seconds drained from the clock Wednesday night, head coach Brice Fantazia and his assistants embraced in a group-hug as though they’ve never done this before. Fact was, their 68-63 meatgrinder of a win over Lincoln of Stockton was MC’s section-record 21st and its school-first straight D-1 crown.

“This is probably my favorite section championship,” Fantazia after the Crusaders claimed their fourth under his watch. “A lot of people thought Modesto Christian was down...We expected to win.”

Modesto Christian (27-50) was top-seeded in the D-1 bracket, but dispatched into the history books was such talent as Jamari Phillips, BJ Davis and others.

In fact, the Crusaders’ season did not accelerate until transfers Marcus Washington, Gavin Sykes, Myles Jones and Ry Atkins became eligible. For the record, the quartet combined for 56 of MC’s 68 points.

MC transfer Marcus Washington leaps for the hoop during the Sac-Joaquin Section title game against Lincoln of Stockton (Samantha Schmidt)

“This year has taken years off my life,” Fantazia admitted. “This group had to learn what it meant to wear the Modesto Christian jersey. We had to coach this team harder than any other team.”

The Crusaders leaned into all their tradition and culture to turn back Lincoln (26-6), a dangerous No. 7 seed and one quite familiar with MC’s style. It was the third meeting for these Tri-City Athletic League rivals and, though the Crusaders won all three, the last one was the closest.

The first half went back and forth, and the Trojans hustled to win most of the 50-50 balls. Modesto Christian finally squeezed out a 32-29 halftime lead, thanks to a closing 3-pointer by Jones (17 points) and a baseline drive by Atkins.

“The coaches told us at halftime that we had to pick it up,” Washington said.

Modesto Christian's Marcus Washington scored 21 points and led the Crusaders to their third Sac-Joaquin Section championship in a row (Samantha Schmidt).

Modesto Christian did just that and Washington--a 6-foot-4 senior with springs in his legs—was the catalyst. He finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, and his contributions came at the game’s pivotal moments.

The Crusaders started to separate on a 12-footer by Jones and back-to-back hoops by Washington off pretty feeds by Jeremiah Bernard and Drevon Johnson.

Their lead reached 10 points and still seemed secure at 59-51 with 3 ½ minutes left until the Trojans made one final push. The margin closed to 61-57 after a drive and 3-point play by Donez Lindsey (18 points) with 1:40 to go.

 It figured that Washington, the best player on the court this night, made the decisive play. Sykes missed a wild shot, sparking a loose sequence that saw Lincoln save the ball straight to Washington who tipped it in for a 6-point lead at the 1:18 mark.

“He (Washington) was a beast,” Fantazia said.

Jeremiah Bernard sprints down the court at the Golden 1 Center during the Sac-Joaquin Section title game versus Lincoln of Stockton (Samantha Schmidt).

 From there, Widemon, Jones and Bernard protected the lead by making a combined five of six three throws in the final 40 seconds. With that, Bernard – bound for Cal Poly on a football scholarship --became the first player in MC history to claim three D-1 championships.

Sykes, who averages more than 21 points a game, was limited to only 16 points, six in the second half. His teammates more than covered for him, however, one of the reasons why Fantazia was partial to this hard-working team.

“I asked Washington if all my screaming at him was worth it,” Fantazia said. “He said yes. He had to learn to be coached.”

Modesto Christian once again probably will enter the CIF Northern California Regionals in the open division, which suits Fantazia just fine.

Why? Because it won't be easy.     

MC's Ross Widemon jumps to pass over his opponents (Samantha Schmidt).


Modesto Christian 68, Lincoln 63

Lincoln                         15-14-13-21---63

Modesto Christian  14-18-14-22---68

Lincoln (26-6)—Donez Lindsey 18, Quentin Thompson 16, AnthonyMoore 13, Zeke Davis 8, Elijah Holmes 6, Jagger Merolla 2.  Totals 25 10-19 63.

Modesto Christian (27-5)—Marcus Washington 21, Myles Jones 17, Gavin Sykes 16, Jeremiah Bernard 5, Elijah Payne 3, Ross Widemon 2, Ry Atkins 2, Drevon Johnson 2. Totals 25 15-22 68.

3-Pt Goals—Lincoln 3 (Davis 2, Holmes), MC 3 (Jones 2,Payne). Team Fouls—Lincoln 20, MC 16. Fouled Out—Holmes (L). FG %--Lincoln 25-58 (43%, MC 25-52 (48%). Rebounds—Lincoln 30 (Moore 10), MC 34 (Washington 8). Turnovers—Lincoln 9, MC 11.