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Eagles seek third trip to Section finals
TC boys ball
Raffa Babba brings the ball down the court in an attempt to score for Turlock Christian in an earlier season league contest. The Eagles (No. 2) will face No. 3 Valley Christian of Roseville tonight at 7 p.m. at the Hughson High gymnasium in the D-VI Section semifinals (Journal file photo).

Case De Jong is comfortable being Turlock Christian’s go-to guy.

The senior point guard inherited that mantle when classmate Caleb Comfort suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of summer league play.

Had the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Comfort been able to play out his senior season, the Eagles undoubtedly would’ve been favored to repeat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI champions.

As it stands, Turlock Christian (13-9) is the No. 2 seed in this year’s D-VI bracket and will entertain No. 3 Valley Christian (20-8) of Roseville tonight at 7 p.m. at the Hughson High gymnasium.

At stake is a trip to the final at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Arena, against either No. 1 Stone Ridge Christian or No. 4 Sacramento Waldorf, who play tonight at 7 in Atwater.

The final will be held Friday at noon.

The Eagles are looking to make their third trip to the D-VI final over the last four postseasons. And De Jong is a big reason Turlock Christian is again knocking on the door.

“I definitely feel comfortable taking on that role,” said De Jong, who averages just under 16 points per game, up from 7.5 last season when Comfort did the bulk of the scoring with more than 22 points per outing. “But I know that scoring sometimes isn’t the most important aspect of the game. Facilitation is also important. At the end of the day, there are five guys on the court and it’s important to get all five guys involved. If you want to make a deep run in the playoffs, you need all five guys contributing.”

The Eagles are making another deep run despite being one off the youngest teams in the tournament. 

De Jong is joined in the starting five by juniors Raffa Babba and Ben Bylsma, sophomore Andrew Fisher and freshman Seth Russell. Sophomore Jack Ruane, who has battled back from injuries, has also contributed significant minutes since his return. Sophomore Caden Aldrin and senior Reese England are also important parts of the Eagles’ rotation.

That mix bodes well for TC’s future, but in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the SJS playoffs, senior leadership is a valuable commodity.

De Jong has carried the team recently, scoring 27 in the regular-season finale against Central California Athletic Alliance champ Venture Academy. He then hit for 21 in the playoff opener against Elliot Christian.

“He’s definitely had the hot hand lately and we’re going to have to ride that hot hand,” said TC head coach Jacob Gregg, the school’s 10th head coach in the past 17 seasons. “Case was more of a facilitator before this year and he started off the year that way as we tried to get the young guys acclimated.

“At times he’s played super unselfishly, but he also knows when he needs to put up shots.” 

Either way, De Jong and his teammates are confident they have what it takes to win another blue banner.

They talked about it earlier this season.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but as a team, we definitely had those conversations,” said De Jong. “It was like, ‘Dude, Caleb’s gone.’ Initially, it was a shock and and a disappointment, and our plans looked a lot different than before. I knew that I had to work harder and rally the guys that we did have. And we became determined to not let the loss of Caleb dictate how far we go this season.”