SALIDA -- Marcus Knott has been bringing his Merced High boys basketball team to the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic for three years because of the great competition.
The loaded 16-team field was a big draw for Weston Ranch and Pitman as well.
Because of that competition, which comes from across the state, most Stanislaus District teams don't fare well here.
Wednesday's first round was no exception, as all three large schools fell to top schools from outside the Sac-Joaquin Section.
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Skyline of Oakland beat Merced 77-70 in a game that saw the Bears pull within six points late. Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco played run and gun on its way to a 92-62 win over Weston Ranch. And Pitman was frustrated by Monte Vista of Danville's defense in a 60-35 setback.
"One of the best things of coming here is, you know you're going to be playing quality teams," Knott said. "And when you make mistakes, they're going to make you pay."
The Bears fell behind early but rallied behind 26 points from Jarrett Sparks and 23 from Allen Huddleston. The guards combined for six 3-pointers as Merced pulled within six with about one minute left.
But the Mustangs scored a basket after that and pulled away.
"We had our moments," Knott said. "Skyline's got a lot of athletes. That's a good team. We don't like too many moral victories, but we'll take this one."
Plus, Knott said, Merced will have another chance against a similar team. The Bears face Etiwanda-Anaheim/Inglewood in a consolation game at 10 a.m. today.
"Every one of these teams is good," he said. "You can go 0-3 and still be playing quality in that final game."
Pitman, meanwhile, had difficulty doing much of anything against Monte Vista's superior height.
Cameron Fenely, the Mustangs' 6-foot-7-inch center, scored 14 points, and Monte Vista held the Pride to 12 points in the first half.
"They had good size, and they used it well," Pitman coach Harvey Marable said. "Plus, they shot the ball well."
Austin Keaton scored seven points for Pitman before fouling out late in the third quarter. Teammates Andre Mattson and Juan Flores each scored six points.
"It's preseason. It gives you a chance to see a lot of different styles," Marable said. "Playing teams like this expose our weaknesses. We know what we have to work on. And beyond that, you try to forget about it and move on."
MODESTO CHRISTIAN 98, VAN NUYS 63 -- Reeves Nelson scored 18 of his 25 points in the first half, and D.J. Seeley scored 19 in his debut with the Crusaders, who play Monte Vista at 8:30 p.m. today in the quarterfinals. Seeley scored in the third period.
Senior Adam Watts scored 14 for Modesto Christian, which took a 47-31 halftime lead.
"It felt good just to be out there and playing competitive basketball. I started slow, but it was just a matter of getting the jitters out," said Seeley, who played for Tokay High in Lodi last season and has committed to playing for Cal next year. "In the second half, I just relaxed and the game came to me."
SACRED HEART CATHEDRAL (S.F.) 92, WESTON RANCH 62 -- The Cougars fell behind early, and the Fighting Irish never let up.
UC Santa Barbara-bound forward James Nunnally scored 23 points for Weston Ranch, followed by teammate Chris Gary with 11. Jerry Brown scored 29 points and Teandre Hubbard 19 for Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.