Xavier Stewart on Merced's win over El Capitan
The Merced and El Capitan high school boys basketball teams found themselves in another tight battle, as they went into halftime tied 24-24 on Friday night.
The Bears’ defense took over in the second half.
The Gauchos were stuck on 24 points for most of the third quarter. Merced limited El Capitan to two points in the third quarter and eight points in the second half as the Bears won 44-32 to clinch a share of the Central California Conference championship on Clemons Court.
“From day one, this team has worked hard on our halfcourt defense,” Merced coach Hector Nava said. “It’s fun with a group like this that takes pride in their defense.”
Bears leading scorer Jared Pazin was on a scoring spree with 24 points against Buhach Colony on Jan. 27 and 22 points against Pitman on Wednesday.
The senior guard was in foul trouble early Friday, picking up his second foul with 2:55 left in the first quarter. His time was limited throughout the game and had two points through three quarters.
However, the Bears (19-5 overall, 9-0 CCC) found other ways to get the job done.
“If Jared’s not on, that means most of our team isn’t on,” Merced sophomore Dhameer Warren said. “That’s when our defense has to step up.”
Warren and Xavier Stewart were matched up with the Sellers brothers most of the night and held the Gauchos’ two leading scorers to a combined 12 points.
Warren was everywhere for the Bears, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds, six blocks, three steals and one thunderous dunk on a breakaway that brought the Merced crowd to its feet while the Bears were taking control late in the third quarter.
“I finally got one in league,” Warren said. “I anticipated the pass and stole it. When I got to halfcourt, I knew I was going to dunk.”
The Gauchos went 5:32 without scoring to start the third quarter, as Merced built a 32-24 lead after the Warren dunk.
El Capitan made just 1 of 9 shots in the third quarter. It didn’t get much better for the Gauchos in the fourth quarter, as they were 2 for 15.
Merced just seemed to wear down the Gauchos (14-10, 7-3), and it showed at the free throw line, where El Capitan missed 7 of 8 attempts in the second half.
“We feel if we can take away their two best players we can take them out of their game,” Stewart said. “Tonight, that was James Sellers’ threes and Mark Sellers getting into the paint and spinning back. We watched film, and we knew what they like to do so we expected it.”
Marcus McCutchen and James Sellers each scored eight points to lead the Gauchos.
Isaiah Aguirre tied Warren with 10 points to lead Merced. Pazin scored seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter to help close out the victory.
Merced now has a three-game lead over the Gauchos atop the CCC standings with three games left.
“That means a lot,” Nava said. “This is the last year in this gym. There’s a lot of history in here. As a coach, it’s nice to walk out of here with another CCC championship.”
Turlock 63, Golden Valley 54 in Turlock – Cameron Sherwood and Arik Bains each scored 15 points as the Bulldogs held off a fourth-quarter surge by the Cougars. Golden Valley cut a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to four with about 2 minutes left, but the Bulldogs hit free throws down the stretch.
Cyrus Allen led Golden Valley (11-13, 6-4 CCC) with 15 points. Silvestre Llamas had 11 points.