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Stunner: Merced star returns early from knee surgery

John Bliss kept looking to his bench for a solution.

The Merced coach rotated a usual wave of players in and out of the game.

Meanwhile, however, Bliss' best option never took off her warm-up.

But she was there -- just a few feet away -- and that was a bigger story than the final score.

Yes, Merced star Deja Mann was in uniform Thursday night against Pitman.

Mann watched Pitman snap Merced's nine-game winning streak and hand the defending Central California Conference champs their first conference loss this season with a 49-48 win at Merced.

"Of course she would have made a big difference," Merced coach John Bliss said. "She would have energized us a lot.

"But I can't control all the ifs and uncontrollable things."

The fact that Mann put on a uniform for the first time this season opened questions about whether the reigning league MVP intends to make a late-season comeback from ACL surgery.

Mann has been working out at practices for a few weeks and participated in pre-game warm-ups Thursday night.

According to her father, she still has to pass some tests to make sure her knee is ready. She would need medical clearance to play.

Mann should be fitted for a brace next week.

"She's chomping at the bit to get out there," Damon Mann said. "If the doctor clears her to play, I'll leave it up to her. It's her life."

Despite dressing out and going through workouts, Deja says she's sticking to her original plan of sitting out this year.

"Just talking to other coaches, six months is too early," she said. "People have come back after seven months and tore it again.

"I'm not playing. I'd say there's about 1/2 percent chance."

Merced (7-1 CCC, 15-7 overall) had been unbeaten without its star in the CCC.

Bliss' girls couldn't overcome a cold shooting night. Merced shot just 15 of 57 from the field.

Rachel Turner and Mercedes Lee led Merced with nine points apiece.

The poor shooting kept Merced from pulling away in the second half.

Pitman (5-4, 10-12) made the big plays down the stretch, including a Katie Staack trey and a driving lay-up by Tiare Jennings that gave Pitman a 48-47 lead with 18 seconds remaining.

"Tiare makes plays on offense or defense whenever we need her," Pitman coach Shawne Arnold said. "She's just a powerhouse."

Merced never got another good look at the basket.

"We didn't lose because of a lack of effort," Bliss said. "A lot of us played really hard.

"The main thing was a lack of execution."

Central California Conference

PITMAN 49

MERCED 48

At Merced

Pitman 14 8 13 14 -- 49

Merced 8 15 13 12 -- 48

PITMAN -- Katie Staack 8, Tiarre Jennings 15, Fabby Loza 2, Yessenia Loza 17, Trina Robinson 2, Ashley Attaway 5. Totals 16 5-11 49.

MERCED -- Casey Kelly 8, Erika Marmolejo 5, Alyssa Wright 2, Rachel Turner 9, Mercedes Lee 9, Dalemesha Hill 4, Marquitta Barron 3, Karine Meyer 8. Totals 15 14-28 48.

3-pointers: Pitman 4 (Y. Loza 3, Staack 1), Merced 4 (Kelly 2, Marmolejo 1, Lee 1); Total Fouls: Pitman 19, Merced 13; Fouled Outs: Y. Loza (P).

Records: Pitman 5-4 CCC, 10-12 overall; Merced 7-1, 15-7.

JV -- Merced won.

Frosh -- Merced won.

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