ATWATER — J.R. Davis challenged his seniors at halftime.
The group had never beaten Merced during Davis tenure, and the Atwater girls basketball coach asked his squad if it was going to be the one to get it done.
The senior quintet of Alexis Bautista, Jacky Alvarado, Maritza Hernandez, Natalie Govea and Myra Mora answered the call in the fourth quarter. They combined for all 20 of the Falcons points, leaving no doubt in a 45-35 Central California Conference-opening victory at The Nest.
I reminded the girls at halftime of how hard they had worked, Davis said. I told them it was up to them to decide what kind of season they were going to have. I could see it on their faces after I called that last timeout, they were going to get it done.
They needed to after Merceds athleticism seized the momentum in the third quarter.
Atwater (9-9, 1-0 CCC) had handled the Bears pressure defense pretty well in the first half, but began to wilt under it after the break. The Falcons turned the ball over 12 times and Merced (7-9, 0-1 CCC) got the lead with its transition game.
Dalonna Jones (nine points, 11 rebounds) and Lexi Thompson (team-high 12 points) led the charge, combining for the Bears 10 points as they took a 29-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
Atwater quickly recomposed.
Behind their senior core, the Falcons opened the quarter with a 10-2 run. Bautista sparked it, draining a big 3 after starting the game 0 for 8 from the field.
The Falcons never looked back from there. Govea (13 rebounds) had six of her game-high 16 points in the final quarter, as did Mora (13 points, seven steals).
I think we finally got our heads in the game in the fourth quarter, Govea said. None of us seniors had ever beaten Merced, so getting this win meant a lot to us.
At the end of the third quarter we were just trying to pump ourselves up and get some adrenaline going, because once we lose our energy, its tough for us to get it back. Once we got the lead, we knew we werent giving it back up.
Merced struggled to score throughout the game, shooting just 11 for 57 on the night and hitting no 3-pointers.
The Bears managed to keep themselves in the game, however, by getting to the free throw line. Merced made 9 of 12 free throws in the opening half to trail just 20-19 at intermission.
The Bear defense turned the tide in the third quarter, but they couldnt sustain it against a more experienced Atwater team.
I think we get a little too comfortable and then get away from what got us the momentum in the first place, Merced coach Robert Pierce said. Once they got that little run going, we mentally got out of our game completely.
The other thing was we just couldnt buy a bucket tonight, but credit goes to Atwater for that. They got after us defensively and we started rushing shots that didnt need to be rushed.