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Turlock tied with Pitman atop CCC after close win over Merced
Turlock's Jaydon Williams drives the ball past her Merced opponent Tuesday evening. The Bulldogs won 58-56 and are now tied with Pitman for first place. - photo by CANDY PADILLA/The Journal

Turlock and Pitman High girls basketball teams are now tied for first place in the Central California Conference after the Bulldogs of Turlock defeated Merced High on Tuesday, 58-56.

“It’s always going to be tough against Merced,” said Turlock coach Candace Sakuda. “Always been physical with them, which is something we expected, but defensively we just didn’t get the job done today even though we won, it was just closer than we would have liked it.”

Turlock managed to power through Merced 50-29 back on Jan. 14 when both sides met for the first time in the year, but in their second meeting on Tuesday, things were different despite the same outcome.

Merced was able to stay in the game mainly due to their top two scorers in Amaya Ervin and Raelynn Blackwell, who combined scored 40 points.

“Defensively we weren’t there tonight and I think the physicality got to the girls a bit but they came back and fought hard,” said Sakuda.

Turlock led 15-9 after the first.

The second quarter was a different story as Merced went on a 20-11 run to lead 29-26 at the half.

At one point in the second Turlock had committed over a dozen turnovers in less than a five-minute span.

“That was something we talked about at halftime, which is to wake up since we fell asleep for a bit and Merced jumped out on us and missing assignments,” said Sakuda. “So I told them to not take any possessions off and they needed to come out and fight off.”

The ‘Dogs found their rhythm in the third as they went up 44-41 heading into the fourth.

Jada Washington had a team-high 18 points for Turlock while Hope Salsig dropped 10 points and Jaydon Williams added eight points. Sarah Musselman finished with seven points.

The fourth was a blur of physical play from both sides and a momentum swing that shifted drastically.

The score was tied at 52 all before Merced took a 56-55 lead with 1:38 remaining in the game.

Salsig and Musselman added the final three points for Turlock to secure the team’s fourth consecutive victory.

“The girls just wanted it,” said Sakuda. “They had that hunger at the end, they just had to keep pushing with Jaydon fouling out and Dez with four fouls, we still had her in, but foul trouble got us to where we relied on the bench and they came through in the end.”

Turlock also allowed the most points scored in a game since Jan. 10.

Turlock and Pitman are tied for first place in the CCC at 8-2 with two games remaining. 

“It’s been an exciting season from November till now but it’s been one game at a time,” Sakuda added. “We are excited for the final against Pitman but we still have Buhach to worry about and prepare for, we just don’t like to skip ahead. It’s anyone’s game, we just want to keep going.”