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Merced College runs out of comebacks in state women’s basketball semifinal

Merced College freshman Malaya Kendrick (15) attempts a layup during a game against Cabrillo College in Merced, Calif., on Saturday, March 9, 2019.
Merced College freshman Malaya Kendrick (15) attempts a layup during a game against Cabrillo College in Merced, Calif., on Saturday, March 9, 2019. sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

The Merced College women’s basketball team ran out of comebacks Saturday night in the state semifinals.

After rallying from deficits all night long, the Blue Devils lacked an answer for Moorpark’s final five points and lost 73-68 in the California Community College Athletic Association championships.

It ended another impressive run for Merced (29-4), which was state runner-up last season and came in this year as the Northern California No. 2 seed. Moorpark was No. 1 out of Southern California.

Jada Johnson, the 6-foot freshman out of Merced High, tied it 68-68 with 1 minute 13 seconds left on an athletic three-point play, scoring in the paint and adding the free throw.

But the Blue Devils had a missed layup and a turnover down the stretch, then couldn’t bottle up the Raiders on an inbounds play with six seconds left, leading to the last basket.

Merced trailed 37-31 at halftime and fell behind 48-36 before answering with 12 straight points on three baskets by Malaya Kendrick and two 3-pointers by Ayaka Nakashima.

From there, the teams traded the lead seven times. Moorpark went up 68-63 with 1:50 left before Suzuna Shoji made two free throws and Johnson converted her three-point play.

The game started ominously for the Blue Devils: after Shoji’s layup off the opening tip, the Raiders scored 14 straight. Merced got it down to 20-15 on Hope Salsig’s 3-pointer to end the first quarter.

The Blue Devils kept the rally going with six more points, taking the lead on Hailey Chavez’s jumper. Moorpark wrested control back only to see another Merced comeback to within 32-31 before the Raiders closed the half with five straight.

Kendrick, a freshman point guard out of Fresno’s Edison High, and Nakashima, a sophomore from Japan, each scored 20. Kendrick also had 14 rebounds, six assists and one steal.

One night after a career-high 34, Shoji, a freshman from Japan, scored 10. Johnson had five points and nine rebounds.

Guard Breanna Calhoun scored 33 for Moorpark, which advanced to play NorCal No. 1 Diablo Valley on Sunday for the championship.

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