TRACY -- On January 1, every racehorse in the country ages a year. That's the rule.
Turlock's boys basketball team has to get older and wiser in the human manner, and for now the Bulldogs are enjoying the aging process.
With two juniors and a sophomore leading the way, Turlock High edged Stagg 66-63 at West High on Friday night in the semifinals of the 20th annual Tracy Winter Holiday Classic. The Bulldogs will face Golden Valley for the title tonight at 7:30, also at West High.
Juniors Travis Souza (21 points) and Eric Wetzel (19) are in their second seasons on varsity, while sophomore Anthony Hubbard (11 points) is just getting his feet wet as a varsity player.
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"We feed off Travis and Eric all the time and tonight Anthony stepped up," said Turlock coach Doug Cornfoot. "We need those other guys to step up because we can't rely on Travis and Eric every night."
In posting the victory, Turlock did two things young teams aren't supposed to do in close games against more experienced teams: handle full-court pressure and make free throws.
"We practice five-on-six and five-on-seven in practice to get used to moving the ball and finding open spots," Cornfoot said. "We're playing teams that press because we know the teams in our league are going to do that."
The Bulldogs were 13 for 15 from the line, with Souza making four and senior Robert Mendes adding two free throws in the final 28 seconds.
"Free throws have been a little bit of a trouble spot for us this year, but tonight they weren't," Souza said. "Robert Mendes hit some big free throws at the end that pretty much sealed it for us."
Stagg got a 26-foot 3-pointer from Derrick Wofford (24 points) with 16.8 seconds left that made it 62-60. Then, after Mendes' free throws with 13.9 seconds left, Anthony Salter drilled a 3-pointer from about 28 feet to make it 64-63.
Souza was fouled immediately on the inbounds pass, and swished both free throws for a three-point lead with 2.9 seconds remaining. Stagg's half-court heave at the buzzer wasn't close, sending Turlock's toddlers to the finals.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached
at email@example.com or 578-2300.