The Merced High girls wrapped up the regular season with a 45-31 win over crosstown rival Golden Valley on Tuesday night at Cougar Arena.
Now the waiting begins for the Bears.
Merced (21-4 overall, 10-2 Central California Conference) will now wait until Thursday afternoon to find out who they will face in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“This is the nervous part,” said Merced’s first-year coach Art Solis. “I don’t know where they are sending us. They release the brackets on Thursday. We’ll be paying attention.”
After a slow first quarter, Merced opened the second quarter with a 9-0 run to take a 15-2 lead. Junior guard Amaya Ervin led the charge with back-to-back baskets as she scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second quarter. Ervin also finished with 10 rebounds and six steals.
“Like I said before, Amaya is a difference maker,” Solis said. “Her leadership on the court to go along with her defense. Her defense opens up everything.”
Delia Moore helped keep the Cougars (9-17, 5-7 CCC) stay in the game in the first half, scoring nine of her 11 points in the second quarter. Moore drained a couple 3-pointers to pull GV within 22-15 at the half.
However, the Cougars went cold in the third quarter, scoring just three points as Merced broke the game open with a 34-18 lead.
“We had a hard time getting into our offensive sets,” said Moore, who also had eight rebounds and three steals. “We tried to slow the game down because Merced is a transition team, but they got on a run, forced some turnovers and we couldn’t score on our end.”
The Cougars turned the ball over 16 times in the second half to help Merced put the game away.
“We struggled to score and we had some communication issues on the defensive side,” said Golden Valley coach Ben Beznoska. “Merced didn’t score a lot of points against us. Our team is one of the better defensive teams in the league. We just have to score.”
Moore was the only GV player to finish in double-figures with points. Grace Mello added nine points.
It was the final game for the Cougars seniors, including Moore who played four years of varsity. The Cougars star missed the bulk of sophomore and junior seasons with knee injuries.
Moore knew win or lose, this was her last high school game.
“I really wanted to try to treat it like any other game,” she said. “I wanted to play as hard as I can and enjoy it. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to play. I’m happy my senior year I was healthy and able to play. I really wanted to win this one. I really love this team. I think we learned a lot and grew as a team this year.”
Merced can now turn their attention to the postseason. MaxPreps had the Bears ranked No. 5 in Division III heading into Tuesday’s game.
“Now we have to work even harder,” Solis said. “Right now we have to condition even harder. We have to focus a lot more. No matter who we face in the playoffs we’re going to face a team that can beat us. Teams are in the playoffs for a reason. We have to outwork the other team.”
Atwater 64, Buhach Colony 29 in Atwater – Marisa Martinez scored 17 points and Lexi Valencia added 11 points as the Falcons (15-12, 7-5 CCC) ended the regular season with a win over the Thunder.
Atwater didn’t receive the news it wanted to hear out of Turlock with Pitman upsetting the Bulldogs 48-44. With the win the Pride (7-5 CCC) pull into a third-place tie in the CCC and own the tie-breaker over the Falcons for the third and final playoff spot.
Atwater can still earn an at-large berth if the Falcons can climb into the top 12 rankings for their division on MaxPreps. Atwater entered Tuesday’s game ranked No. 14 in Division II.