It was a tough shooting night for Golden Valley High senior Brendan Nole on Friday night. The Cougars’ top threat from long range misfired on his first five or six attempts from beyond the three-point line.
That didn’t stop him from firing.
Nole hit one of the biggest shots of the night, draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key to extend the Golden Valley lead to six points with 1 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game. The Cougars (12-5, 1-0 Central California Conference) held on for a 52-47 victory in an early season showdown with El Capitan at the Stable Center.
“I just kept telling myself, you’re going to make the next one, you’re going to make the next one,” said Nole, who also hit two big free throws with 7.7 seconds left to seal the victory. “My teammates kept picking me up and that gave me confidence.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
The win gives Golden Valley claim as the team to beat in the CCC.
Both El Capitan (11-5, 0-1) and Golden Valley came in as the favorites to win the conference championship after impressive showings during nonconference play.
Neither coach was too keen on a big matchup to start league play.
“The past two years I’ve been complaining about having to play Merced and Golden Valley in the same week because it’s such an emotional week for us,” said El Capitan coach Adrian Hurtado. “Then I saw Golden Valley at the front of this year’s schedule. I better stop complaining.
“You just have to get ready earlier. We started talking about league in December.”
Even with the two schools still out on Winter break, the game drew a good crowd.
The game was tight throughout as El Capitan took a 25-20 lead into the half. The Cougars had to feel fortunate trailing by just five points at intermission with two of their top scorers Etrell Bowers and Nole going scoreless in the first half. Bowers picked up his second found early in the second quarter and didn’t play the rest of the half.
“It’s hard for us to score when Bowers is out for most of the first half,” said Golden Valley coach Keith Hunter.
It was Bowers who helped spark a key third-quarter run after the Gauchos opened up a 35-24 lead midway through the quarter. Bowers hit two 3-pointers during a 12-0 run that gave the Cougars a 36-35 lead.
Bowers finished with a team-high 10 points.
“Etrell hits a couple shots and that was huge,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t like they were running away from us because we were playing some good defense. We hit a couple shots and we were back in it. That got us close.”
The Gauchos were held to just 12 points in the last 12:46 of the game. El Capitan made just 4 of 19 shots from beyond the three-point line.
Dillon Greenwood led El Capitan in scoring with a game-high 18 points. Marcus McCutchen added 14 points.
The Gauchos still had a shot to win, pulling to within 45-44 with 4:02 left after a 3-pointer from Anthony Yang.
However, Nate Croninger made a turnaround shot in the paint to give GV a 47-44 lead with 2:53 left. Nole then hit the dagger 3-pointer to extend the lead to 50-44 with 1:26 remaining.
“I’m absolutely a believer in seniors having to make big plays,” Hurtado said. “That’s a senior making a big play. That pretty much ended it with the way we were struggling to score at the end. You got to respect him to have the guts to take that shot.”
“This is the last time I get to play in here,” Nole said. “I’d much rather go out like that, making the shot, then not making any shots.”
Merced 69, Central Valley 52 in Merced - Jadin Loy poured in 31 points as the Bears (6-9) opened up CCC play with a win over the Hawks. Kortez Tyler added 14 points and Jeremiah Robinson scored 10 points for Merced.
The Bears travel to El Capitan on Wednesday.
Patterson 63, Buhach Colony 61 in Patterson – The Thunder dropped their CCC opener despite 24 poins from Gerald Braxton. Anoop Nagra added 19 points for Buhach Colony (8-8).
The Thunder host El Capitan on Monday.