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Mission accomplished
Ceres High's varsity girls basketball team avoided a major letdown on Thursday by pulling away for a 56-43 road victory over cross-town rival Central Valley.

With the win, the Bulldogs improved their head-to-head record against the Hawks to 6-0 over the past three seasons, finished in third place in the Valley Oak League standings (9-5) and qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

"We didn't want to be the first team to lose to Central Valley," Ceres High junior Jode Johnson said. "We didn't want to get knocked out of playoff (contention) by them. It was nerve racking because I didn't think it was going to be that close."

Johnson, Aimee Gunzenhauser and Jamie Beck combined to score 55 points for the Bulldogs.

Jode totaled 20, Aimee had 19 and Jamie added 16.

Senior guard Julie Calderon had 18 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals and one block in her final game for Central Valley, which finished in last place in conference play (2-12). Miranda Espinoza totaled eight points, one rebound, one assist and one steal. Lizette Covarrubias contributed five points and two steals. Alyssa Long and Phylicia Martinez scored five and four points, respectively. Whitney Richardson added three points, three rebounds, two steals and one assist.

"I personally feel like we could have done a lot better this year," said Julie, who helped propel the Hawks past Weston Ranch and Sierra. "We didn't start playing well until late in the season."

Ceres High outscored Central Valley 24-17 in the first half of last week's VOL finale. Jode, Aimee and Jamie finished with 10, eight and six points, respectively.

The Bulldogs increased their lead to 13 in the third quarter. Gunzenhauser and Beck both tallied six points.

The Hawks used a 16-9 run to close the gap to six with 3:32 to play. Espinoza had six points on two treys. Martinez scored four points. Calderon and Covarrubias collected three points apiece.

Ceres High thwarted Central Valley's comeback attempt with an 11-4 run. Johnson and Gunzenhauser had six and four points, respectively. Leah Rose chipped in with one point.

"It was a challenging game," Calderon said. "We did the best that we could. At least we put up a fight."

The Bulldogs failed to make the playoffs for the first time in over two decades last year.

Ignited by the stellar play of key returnees Johnson, Gunzenhauser and Beck, the 2008-09 squad earned a return trip to the postseason.

"We're starting a new tradition," Jode said. "It's a relief."