SONORA — John Fenton didn't hide his frustration as he walked to the Central Catholic bench after picking up his third foul less than two minutes into the second quarter.
The mood of the Raiders' 6-foot, 9-inch star changed after he watched his teammates expand their lead with a quick 10-3 run.
Central Catholic scored three quick baskets in transition to help open up a 28-12 lead as the Raiders cruised to a 53-39 win over Merced in the semifinals of the Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic at Columbia College on Friday night.
"We've had to play without John before," said Raiders coach Mike Wilson, whose team improved to 12-1. "We want to get out and run when he's out there, too.
"Our guards did a good job of realizing (Merced) was hanging around at the basket and they weren't getting back, so they pushed the ball ahead."
Guards Nate Loya and Donovin Townsend controlled the pace of the game.
The Raiders ran when they wanted and also dominated the paint, scoring on many second-chance opportunities.
"When we played (Merced) last time that really helped us," Wilson said. "Rebounding has helped us all year."
The Bears (6-9) stayed in the game early by knocking down shots from long range.
Jonathan Chairez scored a game-high 16 points, including three first-half 3-pointers.
However, the Raiders took control of the game midway through the second quarter and Merced never threatened.
Joe Hamilton scored all nine of his points in the first half for Central Catholic.
Fenton led the Raiders with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but the bulk of his scoring came in the second half with the game out of reach.
The Bears, without point guard Travante Richard, never really got into a rhythm on offense. Richard was held out of the game after violating the team's dress code.
"We don't have continuity on offense," Merced coach Hector Nava said. "Our guys are thinking too much. Sometimes our best offense comes in transition. As a coach, I have to take responsibility for our halfcourt sets."
The Raiders will face Sierra in today's championship game at 4:30 p.m.
"Their defense is so solid and fundamental," Wilson said of the Timberwolves. "We're really going to have to execute well. Their guards are smart and do a good job of finding the open man."
SIERRA 60, ESCALON 39 Guillermo Nunez scored 28 points as the Timberwolves defeated the Cougars in the other semifinal.