Free throws have cost the Merced College women's basketball team this year.
A couple games, including a possible upset of NorCal No. 3 Foothill, have been lost because of the Lady Devils' inability to convert at the charity stripe.
If anything, it just made Saturday night's comeback victory over Taft that much sweeter.
Freshman center Sonji Green put the Blue Devils in front for the first time since five minutes into the game when she converted two free throws with just over a minute to play. Verleah Jones added a last-second layup and Merced College pulled out an important 64-60 Central Valley Conference victory at Don Reid Court.
"I thought Sonji stepped up big time," MC head coach Allen Huddleston said. "She was really struggling in the first half. For her to sink not only the two free throws to tie the game, but the two to put us ahead under that kind of pressure was huge.
"We've lost a few games at the free-throw line, so for us to finish a game off that way shows a lot of growth."
The Lady Devils played in their home gym for the first time since Nov. 16, a span of 64 days, and they looked slightly unfamiliar with their surroundings as they played catch-up for most of the game.
MC (10-9, 2-1 CVC) caught Taft (6-12, 1-2 CVC) twice in the second half, but couldn't ever get out in front. A pair of 3s by Erica Evans (game-high 23 points) gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the game, 56-48, with 5:38 to play.
The Lady Devils began chipping away by going to Green (12 points, six rebounds) and Rogenee Russell (team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds).
Taft had the interior size to give the pair trouble, but Green and Russell's quickness kept earning them trips to the free-throw line.
The pair made eight consecutive free throws down the stretch, with Green tying the game and putting the Lady Devils in front in her last two trips to the line.
"We've been practicing focusing at the line," Green said. "It worked tonight, because everyone did way better than they've been doing. We made sure we got at least one out of two every time.
"Making those last two was pretty sweet, but it was much easier after already tying it up."
MC had a rough go offensively to open the game, scoring just seven points in the first 10 minutes. Kelsey Lemasney (15 points) helped pick up the scoring, knocking down a pair of jumpers to get the offense going.
Taft answered with a flurry of 3s at the end of the half to take a 28-24 lead into intermission. It pretty much remained that way until the last two minutes of the game.
"We knew Taft was a tough matchup for us going in," Huddleston said. "They have some big size in the post and some girls that can knock down outside shots.
"Unfortunately, playing from behind has kind of become our trademark, but I think we're starting to develop an identity. If we do fall behind, this group has confidence it can come back."
Cal Maritime 58, UC Merced 49
The Golden Bobcats had hopes of recording back-to-back wins for the first time in school history as they took a 30-29 lead into intermission against Cal Maritime. Shelby Howard scored a team-high 18 and Leticia Ocerguera added 12 points, three assists and seven steals, but UC Merced (2-15, 1-3 Cal Pac) couldn't overcome a 4-for-26 shooting performance in the second half.
UC Merced 71, No. 23 Cal Maritime 70 (OT)
Michael Yonemoto (12 points) had a big dunk to help force overtime and then scored the game-winning basket with five seconds to play as the Bobcats recorded their biggest win in school history, knocking off the No. 23 Keelhaulers.
Aki Chambers led UCM (4-18, 3-1 Cal Pac) with 18 points while Javon Barrino and George Idehen had 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Reedley 52, Merced College 40
The Blue Devils did a good job holding the Tigers down defensively, but couldn't get any offense going in a loss at Don Reid Court. Gurpreet Sangha hit three 3s en route to a team-high 14 points for MC (0-14, 0-3 CVC). Jalen Williams added eight points.