MODESTO — After watching Del Oro close to within two goals after the third quarter, the message Merced coach Steve Eccles gave to his team was quick and simple: Press and counter.
The Bears responded with three quick goals to start the fourth quarter on their way to a 14-10 win over the Golden Eagles in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 Playoffs on Friday morning at Johansen High.
"I don't think we played that well today to be honest," said Eccles, whose team improved to 25-3. "When we were able to play good defense, that's when we made a couple runs. When we pressed the lanes, that's when we got some steals and got the ball out in transition."
It was the second time the two teams have played this season with the Bears cruising to a 15-2 win over Del Oro at the DeLong Tournament last month.
The Bears had a tough time pulling away from the Golden Eagles on Friday.
"We could have done a lot better," said Isaac Santana, who scored four goals and assisted on three others. "We just had some miscommunication problems every once in a while. I think some guys were a little nervous in the pool."
Brett Fogelberg scored a pair of goals to help the Bears take a 4-3 lead after the first quarter.
Merced then opened the second quarter with three straight goals. Santana scored two and found Josh Fluetsch wide open shot on the other goal.
Del Oro chipped away with Keenan Finney (five goals) and Thor Kamphefner (three goals) leading the way. Finney scored with 20 seconds left in the third quarter to cut Merced's lead to just 9-7.
However, the Bears answered with a flurry to start the fourth. Santana found Fogelberg for a quick score. Merced then scored two goals in transition as Fluetsch found Matt Cagle out in front for an easy goal. Cagle then passed to a wide open Fogelberg (five goals) for another easy score to extend the Bears lead to 12-7 with 5:35 left in the game.
Merced advances to face top seed Davis in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
"That's going to be a tough challenge," Santana said. "Once we get in the game we're going to have to play out of our minds."
Tokay 13, Atwater 6
Josh Heller's four goals weren't enough for the Falcons (20-10) to extend their season.
Alejandro Casas recorded three assists for Atwater, which saw Tokay score eight straight goals in the first half to open up an 8-1 lead.
Davis 20, Buhach Colony 5
The top seed in the playoffs was too much for the Thunder, who were led by Andrew Blackwood's two goals.
Golden Valley 3, McClatchy 0
The Cougars cruised past McClatchy, 25-13, 25-17, 25-16 in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 play-in game on Friday night.
Golden Valley was led by Belen Castillo's 12 kills. Ky Moore added seven kills and two blocks.
The No. 15 seeded Cougars will advance to the first round on Tuesday when they'll travel to No. 2 St. Mary's.