During a first-quarter timeout, a Johansen High player joked with his team he just might need some help guarding Merced’s hole-set.
There was plenty of truth to the joke.
Merced sophomore Easton Hamm dominated at 2-meters and amassed 10 goals to lead the third-seeded Bears in a 19-8 win over the No. 14 Vikings in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs Tuesday at Golden Valley High.
The win sets up a showdown with fellow Central California Conference member Buhach Colony at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Golden Valley.
The Bears and Thunder split their two conference meetings.
“It’s definitely a rubber match,” said Merced coach Kit Grattan, whose team improved to 21-6. “We’ll be pumped up for that game.”
Grattan said he felt his team stalled out of the gate against Johansen, feeling as if the game’s outcome was never in doubt.
“It was hard to get going early,” he said. “Our guys had looked at their schedule and saw they had played some of the teams we beat by a lot.”
The Bears closed out the first quarter with four straight goals to take a 6-2 lead. Hamm scored five of Merced’s six first-quarter goals.
Grattan played his reserves the entire second quarter and took a 7-4 lead into intermission.
The Bears then opened up a 13- 6 lead by the end of the third quarter.
David Chen added two goals, four assists and three steals for Merced. Teammate Vincent Arroyo added three goals and two assists. Goalie Owen Krieger turned away seven shots in the cage.
“It took us a while to get excited,” Grattan said, “but once we get going, we’re hard to stop.”
The Bears immediately turned their attention to Buhach Colony after the game.
“It’s going to be a really tough game,” Hamm said. “It’ll be fun to see how it turns out.”
Buhach Colony 13, Davis 3 in Atwater — Brayden Fookes scored four goals and goalie Gannon Groth finished with 11 saves as the Thunder opened the playoffs with a win.
The sixth-seeded Thunder will face No. 3 Merced at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Golden Valley.
Jack Bustabade added two goals and four steals for the Thunder.