TURLOCK — The Turlock High girls basketball team has run into the glass ceiling that is the Central California Conference.
For the second straight year, the Bulldogs breezed through a perfect CCC schedule, and for the second straight year that feat has left them unprepared to make a run in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs.
On Thursday, Turlock ran into Sheldon — a caliber of team it hasn't seen since December's tournament season — and came away on the short end of a 64-50 decision.
"We play against high-caliber teams in November and December and then take a two-month vacation once we hit the CCC," said Turlock coach Salinda Mabie. "Pitman plays us tough every time, but no one in the CCC has the kind of depth we saw tonight. How do you emulate that?"
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The Bulldogs not only went 12-0 in the CCC this year, but did so by an average score of 63-31 while not allowing any teams closer than 10 points at the final buzzer.
Last year, Turlock did the same thing — going 12-0 — before losing to Tracy in the first round. In 2008, a 10-2 CCC season was followed by a six-point first-round loss to Tokay.
There is a partial solution, one Mabie said she will pursue next season. The regional powerhouses such as Modesto Christian and St. Mary's are burdened by the same issue of playing in a conference that does not meet the needs of its programs, and both schedule extra games in the middle of the league season against the best teams they can find, just to keep their teams sharp.
The Bulldogs, however, will be playing a 15-game CCC schedule next year as the realigned league embarks on triple round-robin scheduling. It will leave Turlock with three fewer non-conference contacts.
"We'll play some Saturday games next year," Mabie said. "The CCC will still be rebuilding next year and we'll have a strong group coming back."
Indeed, Turlock (23-5) had four juniors in Thursday's starting lineup, and for the most part they comported themselves very nicely against a much more athletic Sheldon squad (16-10.)
"Turlock is disciplined and has some very good shooters," said Huskies coach Ricardo Hudnell, whose team advanced to play No. 1 seed Oak Ridge on Saturday afternoon at Galt High. "But I think we were able to pick up the intensity in the second half, and then our 3's started falling."
The Bulldogs played Sheldon even in every way for the opening 19 minutes, and grabbed a 38-36 lead when a basket by senior Candace Sakuda capped a 6-0 run to open the second half.
But then, at that moment, Sheldon's depth paid off in a big way. The Huskies scored 11 straight points in a 2:30 span to take a controlling 47-38 lead, then turned the game over to guard Brianna Burgos.
The sophomore, who took advantage of some tiring Turlock legs to hit three straight 3-pointers at the end of the first half, hit two more bombs during a 12-point fourth quarter to keep Turlock from making a run.
Burgos finished with 24 points, and her perimeter prowess stunned Turlock, which got 13 points from Camille Roberts and eight apiece from Sakuda and Hannah Bertomen.
"We can't scout, so all you can do in these games is look up as much information as you can on the other teams," Mabie said. "According to the numbers, Sheldon isn't a 3-point-shooting team."
The 10 3-pointers collected by the Huskies would tend to suggest otherwise. They also would suggest a balanced team capable of adjusting its offense to different situations — again, the type of team Turlock won't see in a CCC campaign.
"We threw all kinds of gimmicks at them and they still found a way to score," Mabie said. "In the playoffs you're going to see teams with five, eight, or even 10 good players."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.