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Eagles suffer first loss in league play
TC now shares first place with Ripon Christian
TC girls pic1
Turlock Christian center Marly Burton blocks the shot of Ripon Christian's Mikaela Alger. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO / The Journal

Halie Bergman entered the ballgame midway through the third quarter with Turlock Christian trailing Ripon Christian 19-16 in Thursday’s encounter between the Southern League’s two best girls basketball teams.

Ripon Christian, strange as it sounds, took advantage.

The Knights went on to coast to a surprisingly one-sided 53-33 victory that forces a two-way share of the league lead with two regular-season games remaining. The last time they won a championship was in 2004 back when they were in the Trans-Valley League.

Bergman exploded for 37 points the last time these two squads met in a 66-56 win for her Eagles, but the talented 5-foot-10 junior point guard was rendered ineffective by a high ankle sprain Thursday. She got injured during Monday’s 68-29 thrashing of Le Grand.

 “Turlock Christian is a great team, but when you take the best player in the league away from them it makes a lot of difference,” Ripon Christian coach Ed Mulder said. “In the first half I think we had a little bit of a letdown because we’ve been preparing all week for her.”

Ripon Christian (11-1, 18-4) was ahead 28-20 before opening the fourth quarter with a staggering 14-2 run.

The Eagles (11-1, 22-3) did well to stay in it early despite giving up the game’s first six points. They never led but were well within striking distance at halftime down, 17-12.

“We played tough without (Bergman), but we were hoping that by having her in maybe she’d get a couple shots in. It didn’t work out that way,” said Turlock Christian coach Edwin Santiago said. “We really didn’t want to play her tonight, but this is a big game for playoffs (seeding).”

Santiago, to his credit, offered no excuses. Bergman — who averages 24 points, 7.7 rebounds, 5.2 steals and five assists — missed the majority of her freshman and sophomore seasons because of knee injuries, and the Eagles still plowed their way to two straight Southern League titles.

“Hats off to Ripon Christian, it looks like they’ve been working really hard,” Santiago said. “It was close the first time we played them, and tonight they earned their victory — there’s no doubt about that.”

And earn it the Knights did.

They battled through Turlock Christian’s physical play that led to a few chippy moments in the second half. After a quiet first half, 6-foot Ripon Christian forward Mikaela Alger scored 12 of her team-high 16 points over the final two quarters. She also pulled down 22 rebounds.

Alger’s twin sister, Morgan, knocked down five baseline jumpers for the bulk of her 12 points. Both twins left the court for a few moments after each got raked across the face on separate occasions — first with Mikaela with 5:31 to go, and then Morgan just 30 seconds later.

“We got beat up pretty good the first time, so it was nice to come back and take it to them,” Alger said. “We knew going into today that it was going to be physical again, so we were going to have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Sophomore guard Teagan Manus contributed eight points, five assists and six steals; and Kaylie Colyn had eight points and eight rebounds.

Natalie Snyder poured in 15 points to lead Turlock Christian, and Rebekah Mueller pitched in eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Marly Burton posted 14 rebounds and eight blocks but managed just eight blocks. Ripon Christian used a combination of Cassidy De Rousse and Katie Thomas to neutralize the aggressive 6-2 center.

“For as much contact as there was, I thought the girls showed great composure and that’s what I am most proud of,” Mulder said. “During that same stretch was when we put them away.”