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Bulldogs fall to Lincoln in emotional return to the court
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Turlock's Dutch Lawrence scores two of his game-high 25 points during Wednesday night's 74-47 loss to Lincoln (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

It’s not unusual for players, coaches and fans to embrace on the field or on the court before and after a hard-fought game. On Wednesday night at Bulldog Arena on the campus of Turlock High School, they were aplenty, though in this instance, each handshake and hug was just a bit stronger and lasted a bit longer.

The day saw all three levels of Turlock’s boys basketball program take the court against the Lincoln Trojans (Stockton) in each program’s final non-conference games of the season. It was also the first time the Bulldogs took the court following the passing of longtime coach John Williams, who passed away from injuries sustained in a three-car accident at the corner of West Christoffersen Parkway and Kilroy Avenue on Dec. 29.

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Ahead of Wednesday night's basketball game between Turlock and Lincoln, a moment of silence was held for beloved coach John Williams, who passed away in a car crash on Dec. 29. It was the Bulldogs' first game since the tragedy (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

Although the Bulldogs fell by a 74-47 score, the night served as an important step forward in the healing process for the entire campus community.

“We all agreed that we had to move forward,” said Turlock head coach Doug Cornfoot. “We had the time to grieve. I've met with the family a couple of times, and they've moved on as far as the hard emotions of his loss. I told the players, ‘It's tough and we'll remember John, but we need to move on, too.’ It was hard not having a guy that you've had next to you for 20 years there, but John would have been right here saying, ‘Why aren’t you guys playing?’ So I didn't have any doubt that we'd play today.”

“It felt like the right thing to do,” added junior varsity head coach Rick Fetter, who like Cornfoot, was friends with Williams for over 20 years. “He would want us to stay strong and keep moving forward.”

Cornfoot, Fetter and the rest of the coaching staff, along with Turlock High staff and administration, donned t-shirts with the initials “J.W.” to honor Williams.

A moment of silence was held prior to tipoff.

“Like any group of teenagers who may have or may not have dealt with a loss like this in their life they’ve handled it as best as they possibly can,” Fetter said. “They're all in it together. They're finding strength and carrying on as a team.”

The day after Williams’ death, the Bulldogs canceled their final game of the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic. They reunited Tuesday for their first practice since the tragedy. The rust was evident come game time Wednesday as they were outscored 20-4 in the first quarter after shooting 1 for 7 from the field. Their lone points came via a three-pointer courtesy of junior guard Dutch Lawrence and a free-throw made by senior forward Andrew Johnson. Seven turnovers in the quarter also didn’t do them any favors.

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Turlock's Andrew Johnson draws a foul in the first quarter of the Bulldogs' loss to Lincoln. He proceeded to make one of two free-throws, one of just four total points scored for the Bulldogs in the opening quarter (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

While the Bulldogs were eventually able to make some baskets and keep their turnovers in check, the Lincoln lead only continued to grow thanks to lights out shooting from junior guard Isaiah Davis. Davis scored 21 points while making 9 of 14 shots from the field - a 64 percent field goal percentage. The Trojans also received 18 points from junior guard Anthony Moore.

“Their pressure was good, but the hard part is that we're not as quick as a team. We can’t practice against that quickness,” Cornfoot explained. “When you start out slow like that, turn the ball over two to three straight possessions, and then the transition defense is poor, against good teams, you're not going to make that up. They're just too quick and too athletic to give up that big of a lead.”

Despite being down 59-31 to start the fourth quarter, Lawrence’s effort never faltered, draining five three-pointers. He finished with 25 points to lead all players on either team. Junior forward Jeremiah Evans pitched in with eight points for the Bulldogs.

“We came out, we played hard, we learned some things. You know, we're not going to see a Modesto Christian, a West, Lincoln, an Edison in our league,” Cornfoot said, referring to their tough pre-league schedule. “Anything we see from now on shouldn't be a surprise to us. That's why we like playing these hard teams, because it should prepare us for league. If we're not ready for league by now, then we're never going to be ready. So now we just [have] four days to prepare for Enochs.”

The Central California Athletic League opener between Turlock and Enochs will be Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Bulldog Arena. The Bulldogs will be home again on Friday when they take on Gregori, where the program is expected to have a pregame ceremony to honor Williams.