MODESTO — In many ways, Merced High's 73-66 overtime victory over Beyer High was the perfect season-opener.
The Bears came away with the win after squandering a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, allowing them to walk out of the Gregori gym with a Christmas shopping list filled with ways for the team to improve.
And the really good news? There are 43 shopping, er, potential improvement days before Merced opens Central California Conference play at Atwater.
"It was the first game and balls were flying everywhere," said coach Hector Nava. "I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride because we were up and we were down."
There won't be much immediate time for the Bears to address their issues. They will meet Central Catholic in a second-round game of the 16-team Modesto City Classic tonight at 6:30 in the Gregori gym.
Merced got ample output from its guards, with Travante Richard erupting for 24 points, David Keyes adding 15 and Jonathan Chairez getting most of his 12 points from the outside.
But outside shooting does not appear to be a strong point in the early season for Merced, which relies on turnovers and a lot of slashing to get to the basket.
"Defense is the key for us because if we can create chaos we can go from there," Nava said. "Now we just need to learn how to value the basketball.
"We'll also need to maintain good spacing in the halfcourt so our guys can get to the hole. Right now we're just all over the place. We need to get practices in."
Merced built a 52-42 lead early in the fourth quarter by controlling the pace of the game. Beyer fell into the Bears' trap by trying to play at Merced's speed instead of being patient after breaking the half-court pressure.
The Patriots took multiple quick shots, which often led to fast-break baskets at the other end.
But the Bears seemed to relax for a moment after getting that 10-point lead, and Beyer suddenly found its own pace.
An 8-0 run pulled the Patriots within two points, although they wouldn't tie the score until Zach Porterfield (17 points) hit two free throws with 3.9 seconds left to force a 60-60 tie at the end of regulation. Julian Orozco led Beyer with 18 points on six 3-pointers.
Merced aided Beyer's cause with a horrible performance at the line, hitting only 17 of 36 free throws.
But with the game tied 63-63 midway through the overtime, the Bears' defense came to the rescue, forcing four straight turnovers that fueled a 7-0 scoring run to take control at 70-63 with 39.5 seconds left.
"Some of these kids haven't touched a basketball since our last game, last spring," Nava said. "We have to put in the work and I have to give them the opportunity to shoot more free throws in practice. By the time CCC comes I think we'll be able to knock down those free throws."
Golden Valley 87, Los Banos 21
MODESTO -- Dusty Nunes drained six 3-pointers on his way to 21 points as the Cougars (1-0) opened the Modesto City Classic with a rout of Los Banos (0-2) at Downey High.
Ben Fletcher added 12 points for the Cougars, who will face Davis today at Downey at 6:30 p.m.
Atwater 74, Modesto 69
MODESTO -- Ben Peterson scored 31 points as the Falcons opened the tournament with a win over the Panthers.