Sami Dinkins tends to be at her best when playing with an edge.
They Merced High School senior is used to giving away size on the interior, serving as the Bears’ main post player despite her slender build. She’s learned to compensate by utilizing her quickness and attitude to play bigger than the 5-foot-7 forward really is.
It was a combination Merced badly needed on Friday night as Edison’s Vantajia Warren torched the Bears on the offensive glass in the opening half. The Bears shored that up in the third quarter with Dinkins grabbing five of Merced’s 12 boards. With the second-chance points limited, Merced was able to open up a seven-point cushion entering the fourth quarter and held on from there for a 51-47 victory in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I play-in game.
The No. 16 Bears will travel to top-seeded St. Mary’s for a first-round game on Feb. 23.
“Rebounding has been our Achilles’ heel all season,” Bears coach Rob Pierce said. “I think the girls made a concious effort to go after every ball and rebound in the third quarter. It wasn’t just rebounding. We did a better job going after every loose ball.
“They weren’t knocking down a lot of jumpers, so if we could take those extra possessions away, we felt like we were in good shape.”
Edison (9-14) struggled from the field throughout Friday’s contest, hitting just one shot in the opening quarter.
Despite five quick points from Symone Gilliam (team-high 14 points) to open the night, Merced (14-10) failed to take advantage, leading just 10-6 after one quarter.
The Bears got the offense going in the second quarter thanks to some quality minutes off of the bench from Raelynn Blackwell. The sophomore scored all seven of her points while pulling in some big offensive rebounds as Merced opened up a six-point edge.
The Vikings came storming back behind Warren. The sophomore had seven of her nine points and 10 of her 15 rebounds at the break as the two teams went into intermission deadlocked at 23-23.
Merced changed the game with its rebounding effort in the third quarter.
Edison shot just 3 of 11 from the field in third quarter, with the Bears yielding just two second-chance efforts. Merced out rebounded the Vikings 12-5 in the quarter and rode three-pointers from Alexis Pierce (11 points, eight rebounds) and Lexi Thompson to a 36-29 lead.
“I always get pumped up by my coaches at halftime,” Dinkins said. “We knew if we’d done a better job boxing out in the first half, the game wouldn’t have been close. My coaches told me I needed to go strong, and that’s how I tried to play.
“I wanted to reward them for teaching me how to do it right.”
A Thompson three-pointer to open the fourth quarter pushed Merced’s lead to 10, but missed free throws and turnovers kept Edison hanging around.
Marcellieya Hardin scored nine of her game-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a layup that trimmed the lead to 45-42 with 2:18 to play.
Brittany McCreary would answer with a huge three-pointer on Merced’s next trip down the court and Edison would never get closer than four the rest of the way.
Down four with 20 seconds to play, the Vikings allowed Merced to run out the clock.
Sun-Star staff writer Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or email@example.com.