DANVILLE -- In time, Tyrone Bowie and his Merced teammates will look back on this basketball season fondly.
They'll remember winning two thrillers against Turlock, winning a fourth straight Central California Conference championship and playing at Arco Arena.
However, on Tuesday night the pain was too much.
One-by-one, Merced players filed out of the locker room at Monte Vista High doing their best to hide their tears.
Coming to grips with the fact that their season was over after a 65-53 loss to San Ramon Valley in the first round of the NorCal Division I playoffs was just too much to take.
The hardest part was knowing they would never get play together as a team again.
"In the short time I was here, there was just a special bond with this team," said Bowie, who scored 11 points. "It sucks the season has to end this way. I know everybody gave it their all. This is just a special team."
For the second straight game, Merced (25-6) found itself facing a big deficit early.
Ten first-quarter turnovers, including five traveling violations put Merced in an 18-4 hole after the first quarter.
"You're not going to win too many games when you do that," said Merced coach Marcus Knott. "I don't know what happened. I thought our kids were ready to go mentally. I saw little things we haven't done all season like the five traveling calls."
San Ramon Valley (27-3) looked every bit the part of a team that has been ranked as one of the top teams in Northern California all season.
Jordan Giusti (19 points) and Chris McNealy (16 points) carved up Merced's man-to-man defense in the first half.
San Ramon Valley ran its offensive sets effectively with back cuts and a barrage of screens and steadily built the lead to 33-18 by halftime.
Meanwhile, besides an occasional transition basket, Merced was forced to hit shots from outside.
It wasn't the Merced game plan coming in.
"(San Ramon Valley) is a well-coached team," Knott said. "Their execution was very good. They have several ways of attacking you. If you stop one thing, they have a counter. That's what good basketball teams do."
Merced didn't lay down.
Knott's boys came out in the second half and attacked the rim.
It was Bowie and Brian Cooksey, who finally got the Merced offense going with their aggressive play in the paint.
Merced cut a 22-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to eight points at 61-53 with 23 seconds left in the game.
Cooksey led Merced with 13 points. Reggie Nelson added 11 points.
"We started off too fast," Bowie said. "We should have tried to slow things down. In the second half, we had to get after it. We had one bad quarter to make up for.
"The best way to comeback is to attack the rim and get after it. We had to crash the boards and get to the free-throw line."
San Ramon will travel to No. 4 seed Serra on Thursday for a second-round game.
Merced's season is over.
"I told the guys how proud I was of the kind of season we had," Knott said. "This group was able to show what Merced basketball is all about more than any other group we've had so far.
"They really grasped it. They played unselfish. They tried to be the hardest working team on the floor every game. If I were to hold up a team to show what a team should be like, this team would be it."
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.