Christina Castro has been a productive member of the UC Merced women’s basketball program since she set foot on the campus three years ago.
But as good as Castro has been in the regular season, it’s the games that matter most that seem to bring out her best. The junior guard was named the California Pacific Conference Tournament MVP as a freshman after averaging 16 points, three assists and three steals.
Castro’s postseason star shone brightly again Saturday night as she helped No. 4 UC Merced upset No. 1 Antelope Valley 85-72 in the semifinals of the Cal Pac Tournament. The sharpshooter paced the Bobcats with 22 points, seven assists and four steals.
Merced (16-11) will play for its third consecutive Cal Pac title, taking on No. 2 Benedictine-Mesa at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Cal Maritime. The winner earns a bid to the NAIA Division II Championship tournament.
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Castro wasn’t the only Bobcat to turn in an impressive performance, as they took a commanding 55-36 lead into the break. Cal Pac Freshman of the Year Mia Belvin scored 15 points, and reigning tournament MVP Courtney Danna had 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
UCM and Benedictine split their season series with each holding serve at home.
Sierra 60, Merced College 42 in Rocklin – It looked good for a quarter and a half, but Sierra’s pace and the Lady Devils’ injuries finally caught up with them as the top-seeded Wolverines used a run late in the second quarter to open up their NorCal Regional first-round victory.
Christina Lotulelei paced 17th-seeded Merced (15-16) with 14 points in her final game and Annatranetta Stickman scored nine. Merced’s leading scorer, Salihah Bey, was held to single digits (six points) for just the second time in 17 games.
Yuba 96, Merced College 89 in Yuba – Anthony Nolen scored 25 of his team-high 32 points after the break, leading another wild Blue Devil comeback. Merced ran out of time, however, falling to the 49ers in the first round of the NorCal Regional.
The 14th-seeded Blue Devils (17-11) trailed third-seeded Yuba by 16 in the second half before mounting a furious rally. Merced executed much of its comeback bid at the free-throw line, draining 14 of 16 attempts in the second half and 26 of 34 overall.
Concordia 3, UC Merced 1 in Irvine – Cole Smith’s team-high 13 kills and eight digs weren’t enough as the Bobcats fell on the road 25-19, 24-26, 25-19, 25-19.
Samuel Hala’ufia had eight kills and four blocks while Matthew Lostetter had eight kills and a team-high 17 digs, but UCM couldn’t avoid falling to 0-5.
Merced College 8, Shasta 4 in Merced – Elizabeth Cuevas went 4 for 4 with a double and drove in two runs, and Brianna Flores allowed two earned runs in seven innings to lead the She-Devils.
It was almost a perfect day for Merced (4-7) as Brianna Lopez struck out eight and allowed no earned runs on four hits in its opener with Ohlone earlier Saturday. Two unearned runs in the top of the seventh proved the difference, however, in a 2-1 loss.