Coyotes pull away for home victory over Merced

The Madera Coyotes girls basketball team outscored the Merced Bears by seven in the second half to record a 45-35 victory in Joe Flores Gym.


Rhynne Mitchell, two games removed from a 35-point performance, scored 15 points, but it was the emergence of Lilly Smith that sparked the Coyotes. She scored a career-high 16 points, including four 3-pointers. In addition, Smith had five rebounds and a blocked shot in Tuesday’s win.


“We’re going to have more players contribute,” head coach Jason Smith said. “Tonight, Lilly shot the ball the way I know she’s capable of. I’ve been waiting for her to have a breakout game. It’s just kind of growing.”


Leading by three in the second half, the Coyotes extended the lead to 13 at the end of the third quarter and had it up to 15 in the fourth to cruise to the 10-point win.


“They went into a box-in-one to shut Lilly down,” Coach Smith said. “The inability and inexperience of the team showed. Thankfully, Rhynne came up with some nice strong drives and finishes. We’re a work in progress. We have so many things to learn. We’re getting better every game and we play hard. Those two things still have to continue.”


The Coyotes received scoring from seven different players. Jasmine Levy scored six with eight rebounds and freshman Aaliyah String scored two points with seven rebounds, six on the offensive glass, and three blocked shots. She also had the responsibility of limiting Merced’s best player.


“I thought Aaliyah did everything we talked about in practice in the first half,” Coach Smith said. “She got tired in the second half. Her defense was outstanding. She can guard all five positions. She is going to be an outstanding basketball player.”


Smith also pointed out the play of bench players Matty Gonzalez, Erika Perez and Faith Rocha.


“I was really proud of players like Faith Rocha and Matty Gonzalez today,” Smith said. “The sign of a good team is when someone goes down, someone else steps up. Erika Perez played good defense. Matty made a shot and played tough defense. That allowed Rhynne and Lilly do what they do.”


Smith opened the game’s scoring with a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer. Levy pulled down an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. She made a free throw, but missed the second. String was there for the offensive putback and a 6-2 lead.


After a Merced bucket, Mitchell scored on a driving layup. She later added a free throw for a 9-4 lead.


After a Bears’ 3-pointer, Mayeli Hill banked in a 15-foot jumper at the first quarter buzzer for an 11-9 lead.


Merced tied the game to open the second quarter, but Smith and Mitchell hit back-to-back 3-pointers for a 17-11 lead.


Mitchell flew in the air to put back a missed 3-pointer for a 19-12 lead. However, Merced scored the next seven points to tie the game.


Smith closed the first half scoring with a 3-pointer and a 22-19 lead.


Smith opened the lead to five with a 15-foot jumper. After a Merced free throw, Mitchell found Levy for a layup and Smith hit a 3-pointer.


Merced answered with a 3-pointer, but the Coyotes got driving buckets from Smith and Mitchell for a 14-4 run to open a 33-23 lead. Rocha made a pair of free throws and Mitchell added another to increase the lead to 13.


Merced hit a jumper, but Mitchell scored on a driving layup for a 38-25 lead at the end of the third quarter.


The Bears scored the first bucket of the fourth, but the Coyotes got a 16-foot jumper from Gonzalez and a pull-up 15-footer from Smith for a 42-27 lead, Madera’s largest lead of the game.


Merced scored the next six points to get inside double-digits, but Levy made a free throw for a 43-33 lead.


After a Merced offensive rebound, Levy closed out the scoring by putting back a missed Mitchell free throw for the 45-35 win.

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