Friday night's Central California Conference matchup between Turlock and Merced was not your average game. It was the night of Winter Formal, the game saw blood, and near the end, it got so touchy that a technical was called against Merced after a questionable call.
The second half of Friday's contest saw more action than the first with contentious calls on both ends, but luckily Turlock was able to knock down the shots and hold on to a 63-54 victory to take a 7-0 lead in league with three games left to go.
After a pregame pep talk about not letting the fact that it was Winter Formal night distract them from maintaining their winning ways by head coach Doug Cornfoot, the team came out hot, going up early mid-way through the first quarter with an 8-4 lead and building it up to 17-12 after the first ended.
Will Hilgen, who led all Bulldog scorers, added 12 of his 20 points in the first half as both sides ended the half even at 28-28 after Oscar Moreno hit a game-tying three with 6.5 seconds left.
“Our guys were paying attention and we knew that Merced lost their league games by a small margin and they've been on a roll, so we wanted to let them know that we feel we are a good team too,” said Cornfoot.
Prior to Friday’s loss, Merced had won three straight CCC contests, having lost all of their prior three league losses by one, two and seven points, respectively.
It was another close game on Friday night that came down to the final seconds of play.
Merced opened the third determined to battle back as they went up 42-38 after outscoring Turlock, 14-10.
Turlock went on to miss six straight shots on six possessions during a four minute stretch heading into the fourth before Velasquez finally made a field goal to make it 41-45 with 4:47 remaining.
Moreno followed with a bucket and then Josh McGinnis, who had played limited minutes heading into the game, stepped up and made a critical three to finally put the ‘Dogs up 46-45 with 3:51.
There were four lead changes until Hilgen finally dropped a three to go up 51-49 with 2:35 left.
Turlock never looked back as Velasquez knocked in two and after a steal from Hilgen, Moreno put in the lay-up and soon as the play ended, a technical was called almost right away.
After building an eight-point lead in a matter of seconds, Turlock was able to hold off Merced as they added four more points and snapped Merced’s three game win streak.
AJ Stewart added game-high 21 points for the Merced Bears.
Hilgen led all Turlock scorers with 20 points, Velasquez finished with 18 points for the game. Moreno added 16 points, 11 in the second half. Only three other guys scored for Turlock, Mustafa Johnson (3), Ricky Heidelbach (2) and Josh McGinnis (3).
“Josh McGinnis plays sparingly but when we need a basket he seems to come up with it,” said Cornfoot. “Guys who don’t get big minutes played key roles for us tonight.”
Turlock’s next game will be at home against Buhach Colony at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“We are just going one game at a time,” Cornfoot added. “Any team in our league can beat anybody. Buhach gave us fits the first time, we did not pull out till the end, their full court trap press is hard so we need to be focused and not worry about what is waiting down low. We control our destiny, we can’t worry about what other teams are doing.”