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CCC still runs through Merced

Jarrett Sparks stood in front of the Pitman crowd clapping his hands as the final seconds ticked down.

Earlier in the game, the Merced senior pumped his fist after making a shot in the lane.

It was a rare show of emotion for the quiet Merced star.

Sparks had plenty of reason to celebrate after Merced's 61-56 win Wednesday night at Merced High.

All Sparks did was score 23 points, pull down eight rebounds and finish with four assists and two steals.

"I don't really do that stuff," Sparks said. "Their crowd was getting a little testy. Everytime I had the ball, they booed.

"I had to give them a little something back."

It may have been an early season matchup, but it had a big-game feel with two teams expected to finish at the top of the Central California Conference standings squaring off.

"I think it was one of our biggest games of the year," Sparks said. "We're both favored to win.

"I didn't want to fall behind them and have to wait for them to lose a game."

Merced (2-0 CCC, 10-7) again won with its defense.

Sparks and company harrassed Pitman's shooters, which hit 12 3-pointers in a blowout win over Golden Valley last week.

Pitman (1-1, 10-5) made only two treys against Merced.

Sparks and center Kenny Cooper helped Merced take control of the game midway through the second quarter.

The two combined to score 17 of Merced's 19 second-quarter points.

Merced finished the half with a 10-0 run to take a 33-20 lead into the third quarter.

Cooper finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

Merced built the lead as high as 19 points in the third quarter.

However, Pitman didn't go away.

Austin Keaton and Adam Lewallen -- who both finished with 18 points apiece -- spearheaded Pitman's 17-5 run to start the fourth quarter.

Merced played the fourth quarter like it was 10 points behind, hoisting up early shots.

All of sudden Merced saw its lead cut to 54-50 with 1:27 left.

That's when Bernard Bolden turned in the play of the game.

The 5-foot-9 junior showed why he was the CCC Defensive Player of the Year this fall in football, when he stole a pass and raced down for a dunk to that brought Merced's crowd to their feet.

"I saw the ball and it was like football all over again," Bolden said. "I felt like I was a defensive back and I intercepted the pass. When I was all alone, in my mind all I could think was I have to dunk."

Whatever momentum Pitman had was gone as Bolden put Merced ahead 56-50 with 1:15 left.

"I was a little bit surprised to see him dunk," Merced coach Marcus Knott said. "I knew he was capable of it.

"It's not something you expect at that point of the game. At first I was like, 'What are you doing?' And then after it was like, 'OK, good job.'"

Central California Conference

MERCED 61

PTMAN 56

at Merced

Pitman 12 8 13 23 -- 56

Merced 14 19 16 12 -- 61

PITMAN -- Mattison Andre 3, Austin Keaton 18, Sam Madden 8, Nic Schoyer 2, Matt Lavender 3, Adam Lewallen 18. Totals: 21 8-17 56.

MERCED -- Bobby Salinas 5, Ronnie Dunham 2, Allen Huddleston 17, Kenny Cooper 9, Jarrett Sparks 23, Patrick Franey 2, Bernard Bolden 3. Totals: 22 13-19 61.

3-pointers: Pitman 2 (Mattison 1, Keaton 1); Merced 4 (Sparks 2, Huddleston 1, Salinas 1); Records: Pitman 1-1, 10-5; Merced 2-0, 10-7.

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