Turlock High faced a big challenge on Saturday, a 6-foot 8-inch obstacle to be exact. After defeating Beyer and Modesto High in the first two rounds of the 36th annual Frank Godinez Tournament, the Bulldogs found themselves pitted against big man Malik Pope and his Laguna Creek Cardinals in the Championship round.
For the first 12 minutes of regulation Laguna Creek’s combination of size and speed seemed to overwhelm Turlock, but a late surge before halftime and a second half team effort propelled the Bulldogs past the Cardinals, 54-36, and put the tournament trophy in Turlock’s hands for the first time since 2009.
“I was very proud of the guys. Everybody played hard; they shot with confidence, defended well, rebounded well, and weren’t intimidated,” Turlock’s head coach Doug Cornfoot said. “When you see guys that are that big and athletic sometimes you tend to get intimidated or start second guessing yourself but we played hard, banged with them, and we didn’t back down.”
Laguna Creek outscored Turlock 14-9 in the first quarter of Saturday’s game—it would be the Cardinal’s best quarter of the night. Spurred by a trifecta of treys from junior Sean Downs, Turlock closed in on Laguna Creek’s lead and, with a minute left in the half, tied the game at 24 points with a Darren Trainor and one.
After halftime Turlock’s defense sprang to life, neutralizing and frustrating Pope. Junior Kenny Fraser guarded Pope on the inside, forcing him to shoot over the Bulldog’s long reach while Trainor shadowed Laguna Creek’s giant from the perimeter and disrupted his rhythm.
“We saw that he sits outside and shoots and that he dribbles real high so we thought we could put somebody quick on him that would make him take one or two dribbles; he didn’t have time to set himself,” Cornfoot explained.
With Pope out of the picture offensively and on the bench due to foul troubles, senior DaShawn Holcombe showcased his defensive skills by intercepting Cardinal passes and stealing the rock left and right. Turlock’s improved defensive effort held Laguna Creek to only 12 second half points and paved the way for a slew of perimeter shots from the Bulldogs. Senior Austin Bush hit three of his four treys in the third quarter to extend his team’s lead which was further padded by three point shots from Trainor and sophomore Devan Bains.
“I came into the game with a good mindset. I was feeling it; coach let me shoot so I just kept shooting,” Bush said. “The plan was to stay calm and not lose my cool.”
“He didn’t hesitate. When he gets on a roll he can hit,” Cornfoot said of Bush. “It was a complete game for him.”
Bush finished the night with 22 points and 9 rebounds, earning him the tournament award of Outstanding Player. Holcombe received the MVP award for his 23 points, 25 rebounds, and 10 steals through the three day tournament and Trainor was named to the All Tournament Team for his efforts.
“DaShawn is our senior leader,” Cornfoot said. “When he is in the game our whole team energy is at a higher level.”