Turlock and Golden Valley High stood atop the wooden tiles that line the floor of Bulldog Arena in a familiar position Friday night. With the game clock minutes away from expiration, the scoreboard read 50-49—a one possession game.
Last season the Bulldogs and Cougars clashed in similarly close matchups. Golden Valley got the better of Turlock each time and eventually won the Central California Conference title.
This time around, in the 2014 league opener, Turlock again found itself fighting tooth and nail for the win, only this time its players wouldn’t be denied. After trading leads and keeping the score within a possession or two, the Bulldogs turned to senior Kenny Fraser who helped his team score eight unanswered points for the pull-away win, 62-53.
“It’s big. Last year we played them tough both times. They came back and beat us both times, and deservingly, they outplayed us. And tonight I think we outplayed them the last two or three minutes,” head coach Doug Cornfoot said. “It’s big for our confidence and it’s big because it sets the tone for the rest of league.”
Though close scores have been typical of Turlock and Golden Valley matchups, Friday’s CCC contest could have been less nerve-racking for the Bulldogs had it not been for their struggles at the free-throw line. In a first half that didn’t see a lead greater than three points, Turlock went 7 for 19 while Golden Valley went 11 for 17.
Turlock’s lack of accuracy from the line shone brightest in the final second of the half when both Justin Serpa and Demsen McFaddin stepped up to the line with a chance to take the lead and missed both their shots, giving Golden Valley an one point, half-time lead.
Turlock’s free-throw failures continued in the second half as it finished the night with a 50 percent rating from the line, but its players—McFaddin in particular—managed to find the net in the final stages of the game when they needed it most.
“We did shoot 50 percent, but Demsen did get a couple of big points right there towards the very end that kept it a one possession game. So we did miss them early on but there at the stretch, when we needed them after the technical, I don’t think he missed,” Cornfoot said.
The real difference of the night was Fraser, however, who continued an impressive senior season with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Fraser was particularly effective in the fourth quarter as Cougar big man Christian Carroll was forced to sit the final minutes out after a receiving a technical foul.
“I told Kenny to be the best player on the court tonight,” Cornfoot said. “They’ve got shooters, but we had the size advantage. It worked out to our advantage that (Joshua) Sykes got into foul trouble tonight and I think there in the fourth quarter, Kenny was able to utilize his size and shooting ability to get some outside points and then when they really came out with the pressure, he was able to get inside.”
“He’s got so much ability. He can score inside, he can score outside, he can handle the ball, he can defend—he’s long,” Cornfoot added.
Turlock must now prepare for its second CCC matchup of the season, another home game against Buhach Colony High.
“It gives us confidence, but you know we got a lot of work. Every team in our league is good,” Cornfoot said. “If we take this and think that we’re the kings and we don’t continue to go out and improve we’ll lose to anybody in our league. So this is a first good step, a good confidence builder, but we got to get back Monday and work harder and prepare for Buhach Colony next Friday.”