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Contreras delivers in crunch time for Hawks
Central Valley girls open WAC campaign with 47-44 victory over Wolves
Alexis Contreras (1) and Central Valley earned a hard-fought 47-44 victory while battling Gurleen Dhami and Livingston on Thursday in Ceres. - photo by DALE BUTLER/The Courier

Central Valley's and Livingston's varsity girls basketball teams shared the Western Athletic Conference championship with identical 11-1 records last winter.

The Wolves edged the Hawks 60-54 on the final day of the regular season.

Central Valley opened the 2017 WAC campaign with a 47-44 victory against Livingston Thursday evening in Ceres.

"Nobody dominated the game," Hawks head coach Jesse Padilla said. "Playing against them, it's always like that. We're pretty equally matched."

Central Valley senior guard Alexis Contreras scored what proved to be the winning basket when she buried a jumper from the free-throw line with 45 seconds left in regulation.

"It wasn't a designed play," she said. "I was just open. Once it came off my fingertips, I had a feeling it was going to go in."

Contreras collected 12 points.

Hawk teammate Blanca Espinoza had a team-high 15 points.

Delores Uti, Rosie Duarte and Mahogany Simon netted nine, six and four points, respectively.

Sue Dhillon added one point.

Livingston's Anais Castellanos led the Wolves (4-8, 0-1) with a game-high 20 points.

Annie Winton had seven points.

Both teams struggled from the free-throw line.

Central Valley shot 47 percent (9 of 19).

Livingston shot 55 percent (11 of 20).

"We played better this game," said Contreras, whose team improved to 5-9 overall and 1-0 in the WAC. "We communicated. We all helped each other out."

Contreras' clutch shot broke a 44-all tie. Alexis stepped up after missing a pair of technical free throws at the 1:28 mark of the fourth quarter.

"She has the ability to do that," Padilla said.

"It's a shot I work on during practice," Contreras said.

Espinoza converted one of two foul shots, increasing Central Valley's lead to three points with 17 seconds to play. Blanca air balled her first attempt.

Simon's free throws put the Hawks ahead, 44-42, with 2:15 remaining in the game.

"We didn't want to go into overtime," Contreras said. "We did a pretty good job defending the ball."

Winton missed a potential, game-tying 3-pointer from the right baseline with 8 seconds to play.

Contreras and Espinoza both failed to score as the Hawks fell behind 13-4 in the first quarter.

The Hawks outscored the Wolves 43-31 during the final three periods, including 20-12 in the second quarter.

"We weren't thinking about that (last year)," Contreras said. "It's our first game of league. We wanted to get the win. There was a lot of pressure. When the game got more intense, the more physical both teams got. Our defense was key. It helped us a lot in this game."

Added Padilla: "We got to fix some things. We'll be better next week."

The Hawks have used a guard-heavy lineup since losing standout post player Adria Robinson to a finger injury.

Robinson, who averaged 8.1 points and 7.7 rebounds last season, will provide a big boost when she returns to Central Valley's starting lineup this week.

The Hawks have high hopes for the 2016-17 campaign. Central Valley will be vying for its fourth conference title and fifth playoff appearance since 2011-12.

"We have a solid team," Contreras said. "Our goal is to make it back to where we were last year."

"I don't think that far ahead," Padilla said while talking about possibility of battling Livingston for the WAC title for the second consecutive season. "The league is going to be wide open this year. No one is going to go undefeated."