Merced College

Merced College women race to state basketball quarterfinal victory

Merced College sophomore Suzuna Shoji drives to the basket Friday, March 15, 2019 against East Los Angeles College in the state women’s basketball quarterfinals at Ventura College. Shoji scored a season-high 34 points.
Merced College sophomore Suzuna Shoji drives to the basket Friday, March 15, 2019 against East Los Angeles College in the state women’s basketball quarterfinals at Ventura College. Shoji scored a season-high 34 points. California Community College Athletic Association

It was the Suzuna Shoji show from the opening tip.

Merced College’s 5-foot-5 sophomore guard from Hitachi, Japan, grabbed the game-opening jump ball and raced down for an easy layup.

That launched a season-high 34-point, four-assist performance that carried the state No. 4-ranked Blue Devils to an 89-75 victory over East Los Angeles on Friday during the quarterfinals of the California Community College Athletic Association women’s basketball championships at Ventura College.

“My shot was falling in the first half, so I tried to keep shooting,” said Shoji, who was 12 of 22 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free throw line while playing all 40 minutes. “My teammates just kept getting me the ball.”

Seeded second in Northern California, Merced (29-3) advances to Saturday’s semifinals against SoCal No. 1 Moorpark (31-1), which beat NorCal No. 4 College of the Sequoias 66-58. The game will tip off at 7 p.m.

Shoji scored 12 points and dished three assists as the Blue Devils stormed out to a 27-16 first quarter lead.

SoCal No. 3 East L.A. (27-7) closed to 60-54 after three quarters, but Merced pulled away in the fourth behind 10 points apiece from Shoji and Malaya Kendrick.

Kendrick had 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Jada Johnson added 16 points and 17 rebounds for the Blue Devils.

Merced has suited eight healthy players the past six weeks because of injuries. Blue Devils coach Allen Huddleston said Shoji “has been our stabilizing factor all season.

“She can pass it. She can score it. And she works so hard all the time. She’s like the Energizer bunny, she just goes and goes and goes.”

Merced reached the state final for the first time in school history last season, losing 81-52 to Mt. San Jacinto.

Kendrick, a 5-7 freshman point guard from Fresno’s Edison High, was named first-team all-Northern California during a banquet Thursday night. Shoji was selected third-team all-NorCal.

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