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Pacific Bound: Huddleston carries Merced in fourth

Allen Huddleston saw his high school basketball career flash before his eyes.

"I didn't want to lose my last game like this," Huddleston said. "I have higher expectations. Fortunately, we came out with a win."

Huddleston scored 20 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter, as Merced escaped with a 74-70 win over Nevada Union in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs on Friday night.

Merced (19-9), which entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed, will face No. 13 Sacramento Burbank at the University of the Pacific in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Burbank upset No. 4 Stagg, 46-32.

Merced found itself fighting for its life in the fourth quarter against Nevada Union (18-10).

Marcus Knott's boys didn't look like they would be in that position in the first half.

Merced played a crisp first half. Nevada Union struggled to get anything going against Merced's stifling defense.

Offensively, Merced moved the ball and found wide-open looks.

Huddleston only scored nine points in the first half as eight different players scored to give Merced a 34-23 lead at the half.

One of those players was Brian Cooksey, who was deemed eligible this week after a Merced judge overturned a Sac-Joaquin Section ruling that the transfer from Atwater must sit out all year.

Cooksey entered the game to a loud ovation with 2:30 second left in the first quarter.

The 6-foot-5 center scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds in his season debut.

"I thought we played really good as a whole unit in the first half," Knott said. "Everyone played together on offense and defense.

"Everybody was there to pick each other up if they made a mistake. For some reason we got away from that in the second half."

Nevada Union easily beat Merced's full-court press for easy transition baskets.

Peter MacDonald caught fire in the third quarter hitting a couple 3-pointers.

Nevada Union slowed down the pace and hurt Merced on backdoor plays as the shot clock ticked down.

"They run their offense so well," Huddleston said. "They run those cuts when you get tired.

"They wait until the shot clock is at 15 or 10 seconds and hit you with those backdoors."

Eventually, Merced's 14-point lead early in the third quarter turned into a 60-57 deficit with 4:40 left in the game.

That's when Huddleston took over.

Every time Nevada Union got a lead, Huddleston answered at the other end.

"Allen did what he's done all year," Knott said. "I expect nothing less from him.

"He played like a guy who is going to school on a scholarship is supposed to play."

As great as Huddleston played, it was Patrick Franey that scored the biggest basket for Merced.

The senior scored on a drive to the basket and was fouled to put Merced ahead 72-70 with 26 seconds left in the game.

"I got the ball, saw everyone on the other side of the court, so I took it right to the basket," Franey said. "Luckily I finished."

After a Nevada Union missed free throw, Huddleston grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

He finished off a perfect 11 for 11 performance from the free-throw line to ice the game.

At Merced

Nevada Union 10 13 23 24 -- 70

Merced 17 17 15 25 -- 74

NEVADA UNION -- John Wivholm 5, Mark Kendall 14, Daniel Pettinao 9, Peter McDonald 22, Colin Lee 18, Kenyan Olsen 2. Totals: 28 6-10 70.

MERCED -- Otis Caery 3, Ronnie Dunham 5, Bernard Bolden 5, Reggie Nelson 5, Brian Cooksey 10, Allen Huddleston 34, Marques Barron 4, Patrick Franey 8. Totals: 25 18-19 74.

3-pointers: Nevada Union 8 (MacDonald 3, Kendall 2, Lee 2, Wivholm 1), Merced 6 (Huddleston 3, Nelson 1, Caery 1, Dunham 1); Team Fouls: Nevada Union 15, Merced 15; Fouled Out -- None.

Records: Nevada Union 18-10; Merced 19-9.