Santiago leads Turlock Christian to semifinals

TURLOCK -- Every time Turlock Christian High's Erin Santiago turns around, she finds herself in familiar surroundings.

On Thursday, she closed out the home portion of her high school basketball career with a 21-point effort in a 37-27 victory over Ripon Christian in the cozy Calvary Baptist Church gym.

Next up is a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V semifinal Tuesday at Galt High against Bradshaw Christian, whose 2008 summer travel team boasted Santiago at guard.

And when this season is over for the Eagles, the next basketball stop for Santiago will be Cal State Stanislaus, a campus less than a mile from Turlock Christian's classrooms.

"She's staying close," said Erin Santiago's father and TC head coach Edwin Santiago. "She realized last year that she wanted to stay around family, and we're really excited that she's decided to stay close."

The only thing now unfamiliar for Santiago is the situation in which Turlock Christian finds itself, reaching the semifinals for the first time in school history.

The Eagles never trailed, but probably expected to be leading by a wider margin than 13-9 at halftime after holding Ripon Christian without a field goal in the opening 16 minutes.

The Knights, who finished the season 11-14, stayed close only by making 9 of 14 shots from the free-throw line in the first half, constantly trying to work the ball inside against the Eagles' defense.

"We like to do things in unusual ways," joked RC coach Kirk Tillema. "We talked about it at halftime that as ugly as we played, we were only down four points."

The first half wasn't exceptionally sloppy, as the teams combined for 18 turnovers, but neither team got many open shots. Turlock Christian's defense put pressure on RC's guards, clogging the passing lanes.

But the defensive pressure also got Turlock Christian in foul trouble and forced the Eagles to relax the defense slightly. Kelsey Tillema had four of her team-high 10 points in a 6-0 run that tied the game 17-17 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.

Just as quickly, Turlock Christian began finding its range on offense. Candice Balswick hit a 3-pointer and scored on a steal, and Santiago hit one of her five 3-pointers as the Eagles closed on a 8-2 run for a 25-19 lead entering the fourth quarter.

"We had a hard time scoring anything inside, but Erin hitting those shots and then Candice hitting really helped us out," Edwin Santiago said.

Ripon Christian, with virtually no outside game, never was able to make a run, and was done in by Santiago's eight fourth-quarter points.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at or 578-2300.

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