Turlock and Laguna Creek High met on the court of Bulldog Arena for the second time this season Friday night. The last time the Bulldogs (9-7) and Cardinals (9-7) faced off the Godinez Championship was on the line and Turlock emerged victorious with an overwhelming 54-36 victory.
But things were much tighter this time around.
Faced with the daunting task of guarding Laguna Creek’s Malik Pope without the help of big man Austin Bush, Turlock was forced to improvise by intermittingly pitting Darren Trainor, DaShawn Holcombe, and Kenny Fraser against Pope. The strategy paid off and led to a 56-53 victory for the Bulldogs but the effort was anything but easy.
Bush’s absence, caused by a ankle injury during Thursday’s practice, didn’t affect Turlock’s game plan much in the first half. The combination of Trainor’s speed and Fraser’s size, and the duo’s experience with Pope earlier in the year, made it tough for the towering Cardinal to do much with the ball and he was held to only three first half points. While Holcombe chipped in to defend against Pope, he was also streaking up and down the court putting points on the board.
By halftime Turlock led 30-17
“We played the best first half we’ve played in a while,” Turlock’s head coach Doug Cornfoot said. “And DaShawn played maybe his best game all year.”
Turlock maintained its control in the third quarter, leading by 10 points at the beginning of the fourth, but with nothing to lose Laguna Creek upped its intensity and focused its aggression on the Bulldogs. With added pressure heaped upon them, the Bulldogs began to miss Bush’s presence.
“It didn’t hurt us so much defensively; it hurt us on the boards,” Cornfoot said of Bush.
The Cardinals began to secure offensive rebounds and hit the hole with determination. With a minute and a half to go in regulation Turlock’s lead was cut to one point. Shortly after, the Cardinals tied the game but an ill timed turnover with 15 seconds on the clock allowed Holcombe to drive from the weak side and hit a layup for the go ahead points. Another Laguna Creek turnover and a Turlock free throw sealed the deal and handed the Bulldogs a confidence boosting win.
“This was a good game to win against a quality opponent headed into league,” Cornfoot said. “The mood is a lot better than it was a week and a half ago.”
Turlock is now preparing for a Wednesday night Central California Conference opener against Golden Valley High. It is unclear when Bush will be back on the court.
“I hope these guys realize that if we play with intensity and strong defense we can beat anybody,” Cornfoot said. “That’s how you win in our league. You have to be able to defend, so if we can do that we should be fine.”