The last time the girls of Turlock High faced Merced High on the basketball court the Bulldogs were beat by double digits in their second league loss in as many league games. Turlock continued to fall short in the Central California Conference up until last week when it earned its first league win of the season against rival Pitman High.
The win was followed by a convincing loss to Atwater High, setting up a rematch with the Bears that many assumed would follow the story line of the first game. As it turned out, Turlock had different plans. The two teams played just as physical as they had in their first matchup, but this time around the Lady Bulldogs were able to outlast the Bears in a thrilling 52-50 overtime victory.
“It’s a good win for the girls. They’ve struggled for a couple of years; the program has not been where it’s used to be, but they’re learning to compete and learning to play together,” Turlock head coach Mark Musselman said. “They’re a great group of girls. They always work hard and they never give up.”
Merced entered Thursday’s game tied for second place in the CCC with Buhach Colony High. The Bears played up to their standing in the first quarter as they tipped, blocked and swatted Turlock passes to force multiple turnovers and enter the second quarter with a four point lead.
The tide turned in the second quarter, however, as Turlock’s Caitlyn Duval began to force turnovers of her own and transform them into points. Duval, along with teammates Alexa Oliveira and Meghan Hopkins, helped the Bulldogs control the entirety of the second quarter as they went on an 11-point run and limited Merced to only two points in the quarter.
By halftime Turlock led 21-14.
“Merced, they played a good game. I thought my girls just did a nice job defensively on Merced,” Musselman said.
Merced got back on track in the third quarter with big shots from Symone Gilliam and tied the game at 27 points apiece with a Karina Dean layup in the final second of the third quarter. The stage was set for what would become a highly competitive fourth quarter that saw multiple ties and lead changes. After a Merced layup knotted the score with 1:15 left in regulation, the game turned into a free throw contest.
The Bears held a three-point lead when Mary Oliveira was fouled and sent to the line. Oliveira managed to only sink one shot, but Duval was fouled on the free throw rebound and sent to the line where she made both shots and tied the game 44-44 and sent the game into overtime.
“The problem that’s always been with them is that I have more confidence in them than they do in themselves,” Musselman said. “Tonight they finally believed and kept working and kept fighting through, you know, some momentum swings. They never got down on themselves and stayed positive.”
After three and a half minutes of overtime play, the Bulldogs and Bears again found themselves tied. With enough time for one possession, Turlock took the ball in its hands and eyed the win. As the clock winded down to four seconds, Faith Pattee stood at the top of the key and let loose the game-winning shot, sending her teammates into a cheering frenzy.
“They saw what they could do tonight,” Musselman said.
Duval finished the game as her team’s top scorer with 21 points. Lexie Nunes and Mary Oliveira finished with eight points apiece while Pattee finished with seven points.
Now, with arguable their biggest win of the season in the books, the Bulldogs are now looking to build on their recent success in a Tuesday night home game against the Thunder.
“If they come to play, they can play with anybody,” Musselman said.