TRACY -- The trophy handed to Golden Valley High School following its 54-50 victory over Turlock said "Champion."
But a more truthful engraver would have substituted the word "Survivor" after the four-day gruel that is the 16-team Tracy Tournament.
The Cougars (10-1) scored nine straight points over a 72-second span very late in the game. It was their only significant scoring run of the game, and it came at the right time.
The Bulldogs (8-2) took a 47-45 lead with 1:46 left when Travis Souza pulled up for a 16-footer in traffic.
But Golden Valley answered 16 seconds later when Richard Thomas drilled a 3-pointer to give the Cougars the lead for good. GV proceeded to get back-to-back defensive stops, which it turned into four points on a John Sykes dunk and two free throws by Alex Fletcher.
After a Turlock turnover, Scott Livesay's two free throws with 11.9 seconds left completed the nine-point spurt, giving the Cougars a 54-47 lead.
According to Golden Valley coach Keith Hunter, it was fitting his team pulled out the win with defensive stops at the end, especially on a night when fatigue was a factor for both teams.
"I thought Turlock looked tired at times, and I know we were tired," Hunter said. "There were a lot of guys with their hand on their knees.
"But we play defense well. We have guys who work hard defensively, and the defense kept us in it."
Remember, this was a GV squad that hit 15 3-pointers while scoring 92 points in a semifinal victory on Friday. Fletcher had seven of those bombs en route to 29 points. But in the title game, the Cougars had only four 3-pointers, with tourney MVP Fletcher hitting only one en route to a seven-point outing.
Sykes led Golden Valley with 15 points, while Donte Scott added 14. Souza led the Bulldogs with 16 points and Eric Wetzel had 11, but Turlock missed several easy baskets inside -- another possible sign of being tired.
"I think fatigue was a part of it," said Bulldogs coach Doug Cornfoot. "Any time you play Golden Valley you have to be ready physically and mentally because they're a very physical team and they just wear on you with their pressure."
The Cougars and Bulldogs will meet again twice this season in Central California Conference play. In fact, Saturday's game marked the first all-CCC title game bout in the 20 years of the Tracy event.
Rest assured that the next two games will be of a higher caliber, for several basic reasons. The two teams will not be playing their fourth games in as many days, they won't be meeting on the last day before winter break, and the players won't have just spent a week in final examinations.
"They're a good team and we get another two shots at them," Cornfoot said. "I think our two teams represented our league very well in this tournament."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.