GALT — Turlock Christian was a decisive underdog in its game Tuesday against Bradshaw Christian, but you wouldn't have known that just by watching it play.
The Eagles were relaxed, confident and played together for 32 minutes — just like champions should.
Time ran out on the best season in school history when Bradshaw pulled away to a 57-44 victory, but Turlock Christian walked away from the Galt High gym with heads held high, secure in what it had accomplished in its first trip to the postseason.
"We had our awards ceremony yesterday and we recapped some of the highlights of the season," said coach Edwin Santiago. "Every single player came away from that realizing they had a hand in the success of the team, and that showed on the court today."
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Bradshaw Christian (26-4) defeated Turlock Christian by (22-8) by 27 points in their first meeting. And while the Pride will be advancing to Friday's Sac-Joaquin Section Division V girls championship game at Arco Arena, the Eagles announced their arrival as a contender.
"I definitely think this team can reach Arco next year," said senior guard Erin Santiago. "We have a lot of great players coming back and they all feed off each other. It won't be that much different next year."
Bradshaw's edge came inside, where 6-foot sophomore guard Lauren Beyer scored most of her 24 points and 6-1 junior Cheyenne Williams got all of her 14.
But Turlock Christian answered with a steady game, performing at a much higher level than their 10-point quarterfinal home victory over Ripon Christian.
Santiago, who played last summer with Bradshaw's AAU team, was the constant focus of the Pride's defense. She calmly faced the pressure and took on the playmaker role instead of handling the scoring, still finishing with 12 points.
"My team was playing so well," she said. "They didn't need me to score a lot. I was trying to get my shot off but my teammates were working so hard and their shots were falling, so I was comfortable with giving them the shots."
Sophomore Molly Ferrar picked up the offense, coming off the bench to score 14 points.
The game was tied 22-22 at halftime, but Beyer scored her team's final eight points of the third quarter to give Bradshaw a 43-35 lead entering the fourth.
Santiago's lone 3-pointer of the game cut the Pride's lead to 45-40 with 5:34 remaining, but a tiring TC team began to have trouble against Bradshaw's press, and the Pride finished the game on a 12-4 run.
"It's going to be hard next year," Ferrar said. "But we learned this year to play hard and give it our best and never give up. That's the big part."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.