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Dawgs, Buffs battle
A year ago, Jode Johnson and Brittany Lusk were role players for Ceres High's varsity girls basketball team. Cassie Rayford missed the entire season with a knee injury.

In Friday's Valley Oak League contest against visiting Manteca, the trio combined for 39 points in a gut-wrenching 51-50 loss to the Buffaloes.

"I was disappointed for the kids because they deserved to win," Bulldogs coach Shawna Nunes said.

Their productive nights were offset by several lapses.

"There's two things we didn't do," Nunes said. "We didn't come out strong in the first four minutes of the third quarter. We also had too many turnovers. That was the difference."

Ceres struggled from the free-throw line as well. The Bulldogs finished 18-for-32 (56 percent).

Johnson tallied a team-high 16 points for Ceres, which dropped to 1-1 in the VOL standings. Rayford and Lusk had 13 and 10 points, respectively. Kaylee Brown scored seven points. Aimee Gunzenhauser and Jamie Beck contributed two points each.

"It's just a different team this year," Nunes said "Everybody is trying to explore their role. We don't have any major players back from last season.

"She (Rayford) definitely helped us tonight. I didn't know what she could do for us because she was out last year."

Gause paced Manteca (2-0) with 20 points and seven steals. Kristi Llamas finished with 11 points. Morgan Salcedo totaled eight points.

The Bulldogs battled back from a 10-point deficit in the second half. Ceres grabbed its first and only lead after intermission (44-43) when Brown buried a pair of free throws at the 5:11 mark of the fourth quarter.

Jade Tamarra's offensive rebound putback gave Manteca a 51-48 lead with 51.5 seconds remaining.

With 34.4 seconds to play, Brown sank two crucial foul shots to cut the deficit to one.

Ceres had a chance to win the game. The Bulldogs inbounded the ball at midcourt with 4.6 seconds remaining. Lusk's potential game-winner from just inside the top of the arc fell short at the buzzer.

"I thought she was going to make it," Nunes said.