Madera Coyotes girls basketball head coach Jason Smith scheduled the Merced Bears to show his team where they need to be at its home opener in Joe Flores Gym.
In its first game in defense of the Div. II Valley Championship, Madera succumbed to Merced’s pressure defense and couldn’t stop a low post threat in a 54-34 loss Tuesday.
“For a quarter and a half, I thought our new kids performed pretty well,” Smith said. “We succumbed to the pressure after that. It’s something to grow on.”
The Coyotes only scored 17 points through the first three quarters before scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Merced scored 37 points in the second and third quarters to cruise to the victory.
“I set our schedule the way it is intentionally because I know how young our kids are,” Smith said. “I wanted to start off with a reality check. This is the type of competition we will face in our league. Their athleticism, their speed and size is comparable so I want them to see where they need to grow to. Now, the next part of our schedule over the next few weeks, is set to grow to that point. When the pieces were moving the way they were taught, they looked pretty good.”
Janessa Fernandes and Madeline McNeil led the Coyotes with eight points each. Fernandes scored six of her points from the free throw line. Madera went to the line 33 times, but scored just 14 points (42 percent).
“Janessa came in and gave us a spark in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “Hopefully, she can keep earning that time. I thought our young players hustled. Our freshman (Cathy Figueroa), in the fourth quarter, kept attacking and got to the free throw line. We needed her to see the ball go through the hoop. As a freshman, you don’t believe the ball will go in until you see it go through.”
Madera also committed 44 turnovers that resulted in 36 points for the Bears.
“There were eight to 12 opportunities to where if we had thrown a bounce pass, we could have gotten a score out of it,” Smith said. “Our guards threw it over the top and the pass got deflected. It’s a learning opportunity. Hopefully, we can grow from this and keep developing.”
Merced guard Amaya Ervin led all scorers with 22 points and post player Jada Johnson added 13 points.
The two teams ended the first quarter tied at six. The Coyotes got two free throws from Sophia Perez and buckets from McNeil and BriAnn Houghton. However, the Coyotes were just 2-of-11 from the field and committed 11 turnovers.
Madera scored the first four points of the second quarter. Lexi Carmona put back her own missed free throw with a 10-foot jumper and Perez found Houghton for a short jumper and gave the Coyotes a 10-6 lead.
From there, the Bears went on a 15-0 run to take control of the game with a 21-10 lead. In the run, Madera committed nine turnovers and missed its only two shots. Johnson scored 11 of her 13 points in the run for the Bears.
Merced opened the second half taking advantage of four more Madera turnovers for an 8-0 run and a 17-point lead.
Carmona stopped the run with a runner in the key. Merced went on a 10-0 run making three layups off turnovers for a 39-14 lead.
After a Figueroa free throw, Merced hit a three pointer, McNeil scored down low and the Bears added a free throw for a 43-17 lead. Madera took just five shots in the third quarter and committed 13 turnovers.
McNeil got assists from Houghton and Camile De Anda to score two buckets to open the fourth quarter.
After a Merced bucket, Fernandes made a free throw to start a run of 11 straight Coyote points scored from the charity stripe.
Johnson scored down low for the Bears, but the Coyotes scored the next six points, all on free throws — five from Fernandes and one from Carmona.
After two straight Merced layups, Figueroa sank four-of-six free throws during a 15 second span to cut the Bears lead to 20.
Fernandes scored on a scooping layup for Madera’s final points of the night and the Bears put back a miss for the 54-34 final.
Madera played in the Los Banos tournament, continuing today and play at Pacheco.