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Merced's big guns hold off Pitman

TURLOCK -- Merced's stranglehold on the Central California Conference became a little bit tighter Friday night.

Merced all but wrapped up its second straight league championship with a 60-57 victory before a large, loud senior night crowd at Pitman.

It was no surprise that Merced's dynamic duo of Allen Huddleston and Jarrett Sparks led the way.

The cousins combined for 51 of Merced's 60 points.

"With two weeks left, all we care about is winning the conference championship and getting the No. 1 seed for the playoffs," said Huddleston, who led everybody with 27 points.

In winning its 10 straight game, Merced improved to 8-0 in the CCC and 16-7 overall.

In a showdown between the two top teams in the CCC, the stars took center stage.

Austin Keaton led Pitman (6-3 CCC, 15-7 overall) with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists.

However, it was Sparks and Huddleston who pushed the game into warp speed in the second quarter.

The two guards scored 12 points each in a period that saw Merced outscore Pitman 29-13 to take a 40-32 lead into intermission.

"We just started to run," Sparks said. "Our coach told us they can't play with us when we get out and run.

"That's when we're at our best, with all the athletes we have."

The game slowed down in the second half as Keaton almost single-handedly kept Pitman close, giving his team a shot to win at the end.

"It looked like we were going to score 80 points at halftime," Merced coach Marcus Knott said. "Then all of a sudden the game slowed down in the second half."

In attempt to run time off the clock in the fourth quarter, Merced's offense sputtered.

That allowed Pitman to cut an 11-point deficit down to 58-57 with 1:22 left in the game.

"We tried to slow the game down," Sparks said. "Last time we played them, we let them come back because we kept shooting the ball too quick.

"We still have to work on closing teams out."

This time around, Huddleston came up with a key play -- a drive and dish to Kenny Cooper for a lay-up and a 60-57 lead with 16 seconds left.

Sparks then forced Keaton into a fade-away 3-point attempt that was off the mark at the buzzer.

"I tried to make him take a tough shot," Sparks said. "He shot a fade-away. If he makes it, it's a good shot by him."

Central California Conference

MERCED 60

PITMAN 57

At Pitman

Merced 11 29 12 8 -- 60

Pitman 19 13 13 12 -- 57

MERCED -- Bobby Salinas 2, Allen Huddleston 27, Kenny Cooper 4, Jarrett Sparks 24, Patrick Franey 3. Totals 21 8-16 60.

PITMAN -- Andre Mattson 4, Austin Keaton 24, Sam Madden 3, Matt Lavender 3, Corey Trawick 7, Adam Lewallen 16. Totals 22 9-17 57.

3-pointers: Merced 6 (Huddleston 3, Sparks 3), Pitman 4 (Keaton 3, Madden 1); Total Fouls: Merced 16, Pitman 15; Fouled Outs: None.

Records: Merced 8-0 CCC, 16-7 overall, Pitman 6-3, 15-7.

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