TURLOCK -- The luxury of having multiple scoring threats on your side is the ability to designate a single player to do nothing but the grunt work.
Bang for a rebound? No problem. Use up all your energy on defense? Don't worry. Pick up four fouls? You still have one more to give.
Every good basketball team has at least one player willing to step into that low-glory role, and in Turlock High's 57-45 victory over Pitman on Friday, Connor Pearson continued to emerge as the Bulldogs' grunt guy.
The 6-foot, 5-inch junior center was charged with the improbable task of denying the ball from Pride center Dominic Romeo, and over the 25 minutes the two were on the floor together, they staged a battle worthy of a separate admission.
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Romeo still got his numbers, scoring 16 points on limited touches and grabbing nine rebounds, but he got off only 10 shots -- three of them after offensive rebounds .
And since Pitman's offense is triggered by getting the ball inside to Romeo and allowing the talented senior the option of using his post moves or finding an open teammate on the perimeter, the work of Pearson took away the Pride's offensive flow.
"That was our game plan, pretty much," said Pearson, who led all rebounders with 10 before fouling out very late in the game.
"I learned after playing (Romeo) the first time that you have to keep battling, keep battling and keep battling some more because he never quits. He's a great player and a rough guy to cover, so you have to stay aggressive and keep working."
The Bulldogs were hoping for a victory and some help Friday night to have a shot at a share of the Central California Conference title. Turlock (21-5, 9-2 CCC) was hoping for a victory by Golden Valley over Merced to forge that tie at the top, but the Bears got a late basket to win that cross-city battle 57-55.
Merced is 9-1 in league play and closes with games next week at Los Banos and Buhach Colony, which had a total of two league wins between them going into Friday. Turlock wraps up league play Wednesday at Buhach.
"We've made tremendous strides since November and I hope we can take something from these games with us into the playoffs," said Pride coach Harvey Marable.
Pitman came out Friday as the aggressor, and stunned much of the the sweltering crowd in the Turlock Gym by running out to a 12-2 lead.
"We survived that first rush in the first five minutes when we were getting shots that weren't going down," said Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot. "We spread the court after that and opened it up for some penetration, then Travis (Souza) got a few shots to go down."
Souza, who missed his first four shots, had five points in a 9-0 run that gave Turlock its first lead at 19-17 midway through the second quarter. He then scored seven straight points in a 9-0 Bulldogs run that gave them their first comfortable lead at 39-28 with 2:30 left in the third quarter
And when it came time at the end of the game for Pitman to foul, Souza completed his 25-point effort by hitting eight straight free throws.
Anthony Hubbard added 14 points for Turlock, while Eric Wetzel had eight points and nine rebounds, and guarded Romeo when Pearson was off the court.
Pearson got on the board with two points, sinking his only shot attempt.
"The coaches tell me that my jobs are to rebound and play defense," Pearson said. "I'm staying in the games so I guess I'm doing something right."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.