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Bates-led Bulldogs overcome double-digit deficit, knock off Hawks
Nicole Bates limped off the court with assistance from Ceres High varsity girls basketball head coach Vanessa Morris.

The standout freshman point guard hyper-extended her left knee a little over four minutes into the Bulldogs' Western Athletic Conference clash with crosstown-rival Central Valley last week.

Nicole re-entered the contest 90 seconds later and played a major role in leading visiting Ceres High to a 51-46 win over the Hawks on Jan. 22.

"That wasn't an option," Bates said when asked if she ever considered not returning to the game because of the injury. "I knew I was going back in."

Ceres High improved its all-time record versus Central Valley to 9-5

The two-time defending WAC champion Hawks won the previous five meetings.

Bates scored a game-high 27 points.

Bryce Ford tallied 13 points.

Ryleigh Honberger, Dia Borden and Alyssa Sanchez added five, four and two points, respectively.

Mia Lorenzo scored a team-high 20 points for Central Valley.

Brittany Martinez had 19 points.

Catrina Castillo collected three points.

Tamara Uti and Bianca Zuniga both contributed two points.

Ceres High battled back from an 11-point deficit in the opening half.

The Bulldogs rallied after Martinez was relegated the bench with her third foul.

Bates' layup at the buzzer capped a 15-2 run and gave Ceres High a 25-23 lead at the break. She had 14 points in the second quarter.

"The first half, we handled them well until I got into foul trouble," Brittany said.

The Bulldogs increased their lead to seven, 39-32, in the third quarter. Ford totaled six points. Bates and Borden tallied four points each.

Bates' inside basket put Ceres High ahead, 44-34, with 5:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Central Valley used a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 46-44 with 57 seconds to play. The Hawks got within two points on Martinez's basket. Castillo buried a 3-pointer from the right baseline at the 2:11 mark.

Bulldog fans erupted when Honberger drained an ill-advised 3-pointer from the left wing with 39 seconds left in regulation.

"We were just trying to wind the clock down," Bates said. "My face lit up when she made it. I was real excited."

Down 49-44, Martinez scored inside 11 seconds later to make it a three-point game.

Central Valley's potential, game-tying possession ended with a turnover. Martinez had a pass sail over her outstretched hands while cutting to the basket.

Ford needed to make one of two free throws with 5 seconds remaining to secure the victory. Bryce, a fourth-year varsity player, converted both.

"We failed to respond to what he (head coach Jesse Padilla) told us to do throughout the game," Martinez said. "We knew we had to stick to them (Bates and Ford) like glue. We just failed a little on defense. I give them credit. They did very well tonight. We'll be prepared the next time we play them."

Bates and the Bulldogs celebrated the win on Central Valley's home court with their rowdy student-cheering section.

Earlier in the game, Nicole tweaked her knee while landing awkwardly when driving to the basket. Scared that the injury might be serious, Nicole was overcome with emotion.

It didn't take long for Bates to regain her focus as she totaled 18 points in the first half.

"I'm used to dealing with the pressure," said Nicole, who recently made a verbal commitment to play softball at the University of Washington in 2016. "It doesn't faze me anymore. This is a big win for us especially since they're our crosstown rivals. We really wanted to win for the seniors."

Added Martinez: "She proved herself."