COLUMBIA — Golden oldies from the 1960s and ’70s entertained a sparse crowd at the title game of the Columbia College High School Holiday Classic. Then a basketball game from another era broke out between Merced and Beyer.
Clingy defense. Points hard-earned. Few 3-point shots. Screens not set for the timid.
Merced managed this trip into the wayback machine exactly one basket better than Beyer 45-43 Saturday. Jermon Cook’s contested runner kissed the glass and nestled home with 9.9 seconds left for the winning points.
Beyer sophomore George Dancer, his team’s leading scorer with 14 points, back-rimmed a triple as time expired. The Bears (10-5) annexed their first tournament title in Hector Nava’s three-season term as coach and, more important, the first win for Merced’s five seniors.
“This is a key for us, a stepping stone,” Nava said. “We’re ready for the next challenge after this.”
Cook, a left-handed junior, took a pass from guard Travis Pazin and drove hard to the glass from the left side.
“It was to my dominant hand, so I took it,” Cook it.
Little things decided this old-school matchup. Cook, who finished with 12 points, also rebounded a missed free throw and put it down for a Merced 43-36 lead with six minutes left. Nava nearly replaced Cook seconds before that sequence.
“Sometimes coaches over-analyze things,” Nava said. “He told me he was fine, so we left him out there.”
The Merced cushion was needed because Beyer (6-7), which trailed most of the game, finished strong. The Patriots scored seven straight points and drew even 43-43 on Donovan Galloway’s free throw with 43.9 seconds left.
‘We’re battle-tested with three overtime games already, so we’re not uncomfortable being behind late in the game,” Beyer coach Brandon Hellstrom said. “We left a lot of opportunities out there. Credit Merced. It was up for grabs and they took it.”
Indeed, Beyer brought home some new confidence, especially after its first-round upset win over Atwater, a team which smoked Beyer by 30 points at Columbia a year ago.
“There wasn’t a lack of motivation for that game,” Hellstrom said.
But in the title game, Merced held on for several reasons besides Cook’s clutch shot. The Bears netted 15 of 18 free throws, keyed by a 9 for 9 by sophomore A.J. Stewart en route to a team-leading 19 points.
Stewart’s big game offset only two points by senior Travante Richard, who drew major attention from the Beyer defense and also was slowed by an ankle injury during the fourth quarter.
Dancer and teammate Julian Orozco were joined on the all-tournament team by Richard, Cook, Will Collamer of Sonora and Ben Peterson of Atwater.
• JOHANSEN 70, SUMMERVILLE 67 – Summerville’s Jake Fulkerson front-rimmed a 3-point bid for overtime as time expired, and the Vikings held on for seventh place. Johansen (2-7) never trailed after its 26-7 blitz during the second period, a run that featured the perimeter shooting of sophomore Maurice Woods (20 points).
Izaiah Robinson’s 10-footer and 3-point play kept Johansen in charge in the final minutes. Robinson finished with 15 points, and Krys Williams and sophomore Nik Keydeniers had 10 apiece.
“Scoring is not our downfall. We can score,” said coach Allan Davis after his team drained 18 triples in its last two games here. “It’s defending and talking through screens and playing hard on defense.”
Ben Richardson, one of Summerville’s six sophomores, led the Bears with 13 points.
• ATWATER 80, ENOCHS 49 – Enochs (4-7) struggled from the start against the Falcons (10-4) in the consolation final. Guard Joe Avita starred for Atwater with 18 points. Hunter Aldridge topped the Eagles with 11 points.
• SONORA 55, ESCALON 47 – The Wildcats (5-5) captured the third-place trophy but not before the Cougars (4-7) sliced a 20-point deficit to six with less than two minutes left. Missed free throws by Escalon (9 for 19 for the game) blunted the comeback.
Collamer and Kahale Warring knocked in 16 points apiece for Sonora. Stephen Silveira anchored the Escalon attack with 15 points, followed by Thomas Diniz with 14 and Ben Hood with 10.