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Ladies claim section title
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Cameras flashed as Ceres High varsity girls basketball coach Shawna Nunes held the blue section title banner above her head. Her players stood in the background with wide smiles on their faces and gold medals around their necks.

After celebrating near midcourt for several minutes in front of more than 500 Ceres fans, the Bulldogs posed for a group picture and gathered in a conference room for a postgame interview.

"This is something that I always wanted," said Nunes, Ceres' head coach for the past 12 seasons. "And the kids did it. I'm so proud of them."

Nunes and the second-seeded Bulldogs beat 13th-seeded Vacaville 57-46 on Saturday at Arco Arena to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title, its first in school history.

"Their unselfishness is what got us here," Nunes said. "Their unselfishness is what won it."

Jessica Mazza scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both career highs, for the Bulldogs. The junior guard hadn't reached double figures in scoring or rebounding the entire season.

"We've always known she has the potential to be one of the most dominating players," Nunes said.

Mazza played inspired basketball on the grandest stage as her older sister watched from the bench. Heather Mazza, Ceres' starting point guard, got into foul trouble and played just 15 minutes.

"I just had to pick it up for her," Jessica said. "This is her senior year. This is her dream."

Ceres' Krystle Brown and Jennifer Arnold also chipped in. Brown, a senior forward, had 12 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. Arnold, a junior guard, had 12 points, six steals, five rebounds, two assists and a block.

Momentum swayed after Vacaville senior guard Tamar Gruwell, the Monticello Empire League MVP, suffered a knee injury while driving to the basket with 6:25 remaining in the third quarter.

"That really caused our kids to lose their focus and allowed them to take control," said Vacaville coach Bob Fernandez.

Vacaville missed 12 straight shots with its leader on the bench. Ceres scored 20 unanswered points, which helped turn a nine-point deficit into an 11-point lead with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter. Jessica Mazza, Heather Mazza and Brown had seven, five and four points, respectively. Franksen and Arnold both scored two points.

Ceres got back into the game with stellar defense. Vacaville was held scoreless for more than 10 minutes.

Kayla Montalvo, Vacaville's leading scorer, wasn't a factor after intermission. The senior guard scored 13 of her team-high 16 points in the first half.

"Our trademark has always been our defense," Nunes said.

"Our defense is what jump starts our offense."

Added Fernandez: "They're a well-coached team."

Ceres played sloppy in the first half. The Bulldogs committed 22 turnovers and trailed by 14 with 2:50 remaining.

Ceres closed the second quarter with a 10-1 run. Franksen had four points. Arnold, Kelsey Sayad and Jessica Mazza scored two points apiece. Mazza made a layup at the buzzer.

The Bulldogs trailed 31-26 at the break.

"We took care of the ball and played better defense in the second half," Nunes said.

Ceres shot 40 percent (21-for-52) from the field and 61 percent (14-for-23) from the foul line for the game.

Vacaville shot 32 percent (19-for-60) from the field, 11 percent (1-for-9) from the foul line and committed 25 turnovers.

Bulldogs advance

They work just as hard in practice but don't get much playing time. And they never complain.

On Wednesday night, seldom-used Jordan Nash, Crystal Perez, Emily Coutrakis and Jessica Hunter got an opportunity to play against Woodcreek in the Divison II semifinal playoffs at the University of the Pacific.

Coach Nunes called a timeout and emptied her bench with less than 30 seconds remaining. Ceres had a commanding 19-point lead.

Hunter scored the game's final basket as the Bulldogs secured a berth in the section title game with a 60-39 victory over 11th-seeded Woodcreek.

"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be good," said Ceres point guard Heather Mazza. "They push us in practice."

Mazza scored a team-high 15 points, Brown had 12 and Franksen added eight for the Bulldogs.

"We're finally going to Arco," Mazza said. "That's crazy. We've been waiting for this for four years."

The last time the Bulldogs played at UOP, Mazza, Brown and Franksen were sophomores. Vacaville ended Ceres' season.

"Last time, we were scared," Mazza said. "This time, we came in knowing what to expect. We had confidence."

Ahead by just three points after the first eight minutes of play, Ceres outscored Woodcreek 18-4 in the second quarter to take a commanding 32-15 halftime lead.

Five Bulldogs scored in the second quarter.

Arnold, Mazza and Brown had seven, six and two points, respectively. Franksen and Donna Zaragoza each had two points.

Arnold buried a 3-pointer from the right baseline as time expired in the first half.

"I never felt comfortable until there was one minute left in the game," Nunes said.

Each team scored 11 points in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs outscored the Timberwolves 17-13 in the final quarter.

Dressed in red and white garments, Ceres' fans provided plenty of support from the stands during the game.

The Ceres High student cheering section rooted from behind the Bulldogs' bench.

"Our crowds travel everywhere with us," Nunes said. "I love that." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier