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Eagles fall to the Lions’ ‘System’ in semifinals
TC boys bball
TC’s Jack Ruane goes up for a score. Ruane contributed 15 points during Wednesday’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal game against Valley Christian Academy. The Eagles lost 84-74 (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Turlock Christian’s Case De Jong was the last player to make his way out of the locker room following the Eagles’ 84-74 loss to Valley Christian Academy in the semifinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI playoffs Wednesday at Hughson High School.

De Jong, the team’s leading scorer this season, had just played his last high school basketball game. His puffy, red eyes belied his calm bearing.

“There’s definitely a lot of emotions going on right now,” said De Jong, a point guard who took on more scoring responsibilities this season without the injured Caleb Comfort, a 6-foot-8 center who helped lead the Eagles to D-VI section title last season. “I left it all on the court tonight. And I’m just excited for my teammates to carry the torch next year.”

The Eagles (13-10) were vying for their third trip the finals in the last four postseasons. In the end, VCA’s hockey-like line substitutions — with five fresh players replacing those on the court about every 45 seconds — proved too much to handle.

“It’s called ‘The System,’” said Lions head coach Brad Gunter, referring to the scheme created by coach Dave Arsenault at Grinnell College. “It’s all based on math. Half of your shots should be three-pointers, you need to rebound 33 percent of your misses, you want to shoot 25 more times than your opponent, and you want to turn them over at least 25 times.”

The System employs game-long full-court pressure, which leads to some easy breakaway baskets for the opponent. But that’s baked in, according to Gunter. Easy baskets happen, and they only allow his team to get the ball back sooner to attempt another shot. Better yet, a three-point shot (three is better than two, after all).

The overall goal is to put up more shots than your foe by forcing more turnovers and getting more offensive rebounds.

Not only does The System provide a team with more scoring opportunities than its opponent, it causes fatigue — and the mental errors that come with fatigue.

“We made some fatigue mistakes tonight, and some youth mistakes, too,” said Eagles head coach Jacob Gregg, whose team starts just on senior — De Jong. “And their physicality got to us a little bit. But I’m so proud of this group of guys. From Day One they committed. This has been the most harmonious group I’ve worked with, and a lot of that has to do with Case.”

De Jong got into foul trouble late in the third quarter and VCA outscored Turlock Christian 14-7 in his absence, turning a tie game into a 48-41 halftime cushion.

The Lions would never lead by less than five points the rest of the way.

“They’ve always played that way,” said De Jong, referring to VCA’s style. “It was a hard-fought game, but we definitely got fatigued. In a game like that, your mind and your body get worked over.”

De Jong, who averaged 15.6 points per game entering the contest, finished with 15, as did teammate Jack Ruane. Ben Bylsma led the Eagles with 19 points, while Raffa Babba contributed 14.

Valley Christian (22-8), which got 20 points from senior Chris Donker against TC, went on to defeat Sacramento Waldorf (24-7) 72-29 to claim the D-VI title Friday afternoon at Golden 1 Arena in Sacramento.