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Second half surge lifts Turlock girls over Merced
Turlock girls
Morgan Nunes (pictured here at an earlier season game against Merced) and her fellow Bulldogs came away with a crucial victory over the Bears on Thursday. - photo by Journal file photo

Thursday marked a big week in the Central California Conference for Turlock's varsity girls basketball team, which is still in the chase for the third and final playoff spot in league.


With their 48-44 road win over Merced, Turlock High is now sitting in a three-way tie with Atwater and Merced for the third place position in league and the final playoff spot with three games remaining.


“This is a big win for the program, we talked about it to the seniors when I first got there and how bad Merced beat us then," said Turlock head coach Mark Musselman. “They tried to put a 100 on us and to come in their place and hold their top two players to single digits is a big accomplishment.”


Turlock has now beaten Merced twice in their last three meetings dating back to last season.


Musselman also knew some big keys to victory was controlling Merced seniors Lexi Thompson and Symone Gilliam, which they did,  neutralizing both as opposed to their first meeting when they dominated the 'Dogs.


Gilliam, who had 19 in their first meeting, finished this game with no field goals made and had all five of her points from the free-throw line.


“We took Meghan Hopkins and put her on Lexi and Sarah (Musselman) on Symone and forced the others to beat us and they both did great with help from the others,” said Musselman.


Turlock forced Merced to have an uncomfortable night, scoring their third lowest total in seven league games. Merced's top scorer was Raelynn Blackwell with nine points.


The 'Dogs went up early in the opening quarter after taking a 6-0 lead, but Merced fired back, going on an 8-2 run to end the first at eight apiece.


Turlock led by as many as 10 points in the second but then with four starters forced to sit due to early foul trouble, the Bears fought back with four minutes left to take a three-point lead heading into the halftime break.


“They forced us to get our starters out in the last four minutes and Merced did well, they forced turnovers and we had at least five turnovers at least in that span,” said Musselman.


The 'Dogs wouldn't lead again until the final minute and a half. Turlock battled in the final quarter after one of the most physical games all year said Musselman.


“It was a very physical game on both ends. I think tonight was the craziest because of Jaydon (Williams) ending with a black eye,” said Musselman. “The crazy thing was she was called for the foul but she came back and responded well in the closing minute.”


Turlock never got close in the third, but after Sarah Musselman drilled a three to cut the lead to two points near the end, the momentum seemed to have shifted at that point.


“The defense was on,” said Musselman. “I never doubted these girls all year, they doubt themselves sometimes but we talked about it earlier that we are young and they need to believe that they can play and they never gave up, kept fighting and played a good, hard basketball game, both sides did.”


Hope Salsig, Shea Williams, Hopkins and Jaydon Williams each added four points or more in the closing quarter after Turlock went on a 9-1 run in the final three minutes of action.


Salsig finished with a game-high 12 points, Jaydon Williams added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and seven girls scored on the night. Shea Williams tallied 10 points.


“I told them yesterday if they win tonight, they control their destiny, it's up to them, they had to win tonight to have any say if they make the playoffs. We have one game at a time, Buhach is next and we need to win every game from here on out to maintain control and have a say if they make playoffs.”


Turlock's next game will be on the road at Buhach Colony at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.