Modesto Christian’s little point guard Meagan Warwick scored only two points Friday night in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division III girls’ basketball championship game. But, those pair of free throws was the two most important points for her team all night.
The 5-6 freshman stood on a gimpy ankle with only 0.4 of a second on the clock and sunk two pressure free throws to hand the Crusaders a 39-37 win and her school’s sixth Section championship since 2006.
But ask Florin head coach Larry Price and those free throws should have never been attempted. He believed the referees got the call wrong. Price thought the final horn sound before Dalayna Sampton sent Warwick hard to the Sleep Train Arena floor, injuring her ankle.
“I don’t think (the call against Sampton) should have been made,” he said.
So incensed was Price that he was filling the ears of the guys in stripes as they left the floor while Modesto Christian’s players and fans were starting the celebration on the court. He was a bit more reserved when he spoke to reporters after the awards’ ceremony.
“So much happened in that short amount of time, you let us come back out here and go another quarter,” Price claimed. “That’s the way I look at it.”
But, two officials whistled the foul on Sampton, claiming it happened prior to the final horn. They had the clock operator put four-tenths of a second on the scoreboard. Warwick swished both charity tosses.
An inbounds pass found Jikara Sellers just across the timeline and she did get off a shot, but it was way off the mark at the horn.
It was Florin’s second Section runner-up finish in as many years. The Panthers also made back-to-back visits to the championship game in 1996 and 1997.
Instead of a blue banner for the Florin gymnasium, the Panthers will now await the seeding of the Nor-Cal brackets for that portion of the post-season which begins this week. The four teams which made the semi-finals in each division throughout the Section will participate in the tournament.
There were two aspects of this game, loaded with turnovers and poor shooting from the field by both teams, which really were the difference in the outcome.
First, the Panthers didn’t score at all in the first 6:20 of the game. That gave Modesto Christian the opportunity to run out to an 11-0 start while Florin committed ten turnovers in that stretch.
Secondly, when Florin picked up the pace of the game much more and started drawing multiple fouls during the second period, they started to narrow the gap on the scoreboard. The Panthers went to the charity stripe 15 times in that period alone. However, they made just eight free throws.
“I think it was the difference,” Price said. “Against Vanden we hit the free throws down the stretch. After getting behind so much early, it took some energy to get back in it.”
Florin held the Crusaders scoreless in the final five minutes of the second quarter and it was 19-16 Modesto Christian at intermission.
Sellers came out with a hot hand in the third period, hit a three to tie the game at 19 and scored all of her eight points in that quarter alone. Her heroics keep the Panthers in the game, but also hot was the Crusaders’ Lexi Tubbs. She scored nine of her game-high 17 points in the third quarter.
Modesto Christian had a 30-26 lead going in the final period.
Florin stayed close until Sellers went to the free throw line for a one-and-one with 2:26 left in the game. She missed her toss, but bulling her way into the paint was Florin center Desiree Dedrick to wrestle the rebound out of the hands of a Crusader player and banked in the ball to tie the game at 33.
Sampton made one of two free throws with 1:08 remaining to tie the game again at 34, but Tubbs swished a huge three pointer 11 seconds later to give Modesto Christian a 37-34 advantage.
On the next possession Sampton got the ball in the low post and spun around missed a quick bank shot, grabbed her own rebound and put it in the bucket. She was fouled by Stephanie Moore.
Sampton had the chance to tied the game once again and made the key free throw to make it 37-all with :37.3 on the clock.
On the defensive end, Sampton stole a pass in the paint and flipped the ball upcourt to Sellers, who then heard her coach hollering for a time out and the whistle was blown.
Price brought his team to the sidelines with just :16.4 seconds to map a final play to win the Section championship.
After the inbounds, the ball was worked around to guard Kynnidi Ricardo who with :06 on the clock missed a ten footer from the left side. Modesto Christian grabbed the defensive rebound and got the ball downcourt for Warwick’s fateful shot attempt.
Florin was led by Rhianna Jackson with 13 points. Sampton had six points, but collected 17 rebounds. The Panthers shot just 29 percent from the floor (12-for-41), was three-for-11 in three-pointers and made just ten-of 23 free throws.
Price said though his girls were hanging their heads low Friday night, they’d be ready for the Nor-Cals.
“They are resilient,” he said. “They will band together, play as a team. They are all for each other. We’ll come back because they have some fight left in them.”
He added that his team would continue to be at a disadvantage because twin sisters, Julie and Judy Saelee, are both injured and won’t be available the rest of the season.
“They gave us an extremely deep bench and there was a lot we could do,” Price said. “Delayna Sampton can play like four positions and with the three bigs we have, we fought (Friday) and we’ll be alright.”
Despite the back-to-back losses in championship games, losing to Sacramento last season in the D-II finale, Price thinks his program has arrived and will continue to be one of the area’s strongest.
“Last year when we were here against Sac High, there were those who thought we were a fluke,” he said. “Tonight we proved we belong here. Florin High is alive and they are not going anywhere.”