Robert Pierce could feel his squad seething in frustration midway through the third quarter on Tuesday night.
His Merced girls basketball team couldnt knock down open looks and was forcing plenty of contested ones. To compound matters, Golden Valley wasnt allowing many second chances, gobbling up the ball on the glass.
With a chance to clinch sole possession of the Central California Conference crown and the Cougars refusing to go away, Pierce called a timeout to try and settle things down.
I told the girls the whole game our offense was very stagnant, Pierce said. We were rushing bad shots and just not moving enough off of the ball. To give Golden Valley credit, we werent getting any second chances either. I felt like if we could just get a couple easy buckets by attacking the basket, our confidence would go back up.
Merced did just that, closing the third quarter with an 11-0 run. The momentum carried over into the fourth quarter as the Bears scored the first seven points and cruised from there to a 48-30 victory at Cougar Arena.
We knew CCC was still on the line, Merced senior Dalonna Jones said. Having a solo title meant a lot to us seniors and we just needed to calm things down and get back to what we do well.
Hitting a couple baskets in a row was huge. It helped us relax and we could all breathe a little easier after that.
There wasnt much relaxing for the Bears (16-10, 9-1 CCC) in the middle two quarters as GV (12-15, 3-7 CCC) gave them all they could handle.
Merced got the fast start it was looking for on the road, building a 13-4 lead at the end of the first quarter behind Lexi Thompsons six points.
But Pierce went to his bench to open the second quarter and the Cougars began chipping away at the lead. With Jones in particular, off of the court, Golden Valley began attacking the basket.
Sophomore point guard Naomi Peterson led the attack, scoring six of her team-high 12 points in the second quarter. That sparked an 11-2 run that tied the game at 15-15.
Golden Valley could never get out in front, however. Merceds Oleachea Bowers answered, hitting back-to-back baskets to send Merced into intermission up 20-17.
We got all the open shots we wanted tonight, 3s and right at the basket, and just could not finish, Golden Valley coach Matt Thissen said. Thats going to happen some nights, but I couldnt be prouder of the effort that the girls gave tonight.
Bowers and Thompson (game-high 14 points) were the catalysts in the late third-quarter run. Merced pushed its lead to 20 to open the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Jones finished with seven points, five blocks, six steals and 21 rebounds.
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Mayra Mora scored 11 points to lead Atwater (15-12, 7-3), which will enter the playoffs as the CCC No. 3 seed.
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Denise Reis scored 21 points for the Wolves.
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