Robert Pierce wasn’t surprised by the Merced High girls basketball team’s slow start on Thursday night.
The Bears had left it all on the court in Tuesday’s victory over Buhach Colony and a sluggish practice Wednesday was the end result.
Prepared as he was, even the Merced head coach never envisioned his tired squad going into intermission with just 18 points on a 7 of 37 first-half shooting performance. Fortunately for Pierce, the Bears found a second wind.
Lexi Thompson scored all 12 of her points in the second half, including the Bears’ first 10 of the third quarter. Her teammates followed suit as Merced kicked the intensity up a notch in the second half and blew past rival Golden Valley for a 49-23 victory at Vince Clemons Court.
The victory coupled with Buhach Colony’s win over Atwater on Thursday ties all three for first place in the Central California Conference heading into the second half of league play.
“I was expecting the slow start. I just never expected it to be that slow,” Pierce said. “We expended quite a bit of energy in the Buhach game, but I knew our defense would keep us in it.
“The discussion at halftime was we needed bring up the energy. We got the butterflies and the nervousness of the rivalry game out of the way. It was time to turn it on.”
Merced (11-10, 4-1 CCC) certainly did that.
After missing her first nine shots in the opening half, Thompson opened the second half by knocking down a runner and draining a 3 on the next possession. The sophomore was just getting started. She hit another 3 from her favorite spot on the top right of the arc and then drove the length of the court for a layup after stealing the ball.
Thompson’s personal 10-3 run gave Merced a 28-15 lead. The Cougars (11-11, 2-3 CCC) would never get back within single digits.
“We finally played with the same intensity we did against Buhach,” Thompson said. “We had a slow practice Wednesday and I guess that was the result.
“I just needed to concentrate more. Once I focused on getting my footwork right, I finally made some shots.”
Thompson wasn’t alone. With its defense suddenly leading to easy offensive chances, Merced outscored Golden Valley 31-11 in the second half.
Symone Gilliam, who carried the Bears in the opening half with eight points, lead all scorers with 13. Fresh off her triple-double, center Dalonna Jones added 10 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and three steals.
“We let it snowball a little bit,” Golden Valley coach Matt Thissen said. “Once they got going we had a hard time putting on the breaks.
“The first half went exactly as we wanted it to. We dictated the tempo. We got them in foul trouble.
“We just didn’t knock down shots. That and this being the first game we’ve shot free throws really poorly in while really cost us.”
Golden Valley opened the game with a 2-3 zone, which seemed to frustrate Merced. The Bears weren’t making shots and the Cougars did a good job of limiting second chances.
The problem was GV wasn’t shooting any better. Jones’ presence in the middle certainly altered her share of shots, but the Cougars (7 for 53 shooting) missed quite a few open looks.
Camille Flores led GV with 10 points and Marissa Servantes chipped in five.
Golden Valley 35, Merced 31 – Brady Mello’s pin of Alex Rodri in 122-pound match helped the Cougars extend their winning streak over their crosstown rivals to 14 years.
GV also got pins from Jacob Perry (128), Joey Terry (134) and Tanner Browning (115) in the victory. Merced’s Isaiah Alva earned a pin at 154s.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.