The Saddleback men’s basketball team captured the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) state title on Sunday afternoon, defeating East Los Angeles College, 50-47, in dramatic fashion during the championship game played in the Cerritos College gymnasium.
It was the third state title for the Gauchos men’s basketball program, adding to the titles won in 2002 and 2010. Head coach Andy Ground was an assistant coach on the 2002 team but the head coach in 2010 when Perry Webster, TJ Lipold, and Kyle Wallace were a few of the players which helped the team win a title that year. Ground got his second state title this past weekend with Webster, Lipold, and Wallace on the bench as assistant coaches. Darryl Brown was an assistant coach on both the 2010 and 2015 teams.
Dr. Tod A. Burnett, president of Saddleback College, stated, “Congratulations to the Gauchos men’s basketball team, which played a terrific season and have made Saddleback College very proud. I must also congratulate the fine work of our first-rate coach, Andy Ground, and the entire coaching team for true leadership in coaching fine players who are also taught the importance of academic excellence.”
The Gauchos led only once in the first half against East Los Angeles in the title game and found themselves down 28-25 at halftime. Saddleback would never take the lead in the second half until Dusty Baker’s jump shot with just under three minutes to play gave the Gauchos a 46-45 lead. Baker added another jump shot to extend the lead to 48-45 and Maleke Haynes would add a lay-up to account for Saddleback’s final points. Meanwhile, Saddleback’s stingy defense gave the Huskies trouble in the second half. After taking a 44-40 lead with 8:35 to play, the Huskies would not score another field goal for the remainder of the game and converted only three free throws to give them their 47 total points.
“The mark of a great basketball team is how it responds when its back is against the wall,” Ground said. “This weekend our backs were against the wall a lot and we kept fighting. We just continued to battle through it.”
Sophomore center Conor Clifford had 16 points and six rebounds in the championship game while Andrew Bournes added 14 points and four rebounds. Baker ended up with eight points and five rebounds while Maleke Haynes piloted the offense with seven assists.
The 50 points Saddleback scored in winning the state title, the 47 points allowed on defense, and the 97 combined points were the lowest totals for a championship game in 30 years and was a testament to Saddleback’s emphasis on playing fundamentally sound defense.
The Gauchos reached the championship game in dramatic fashion, edging Canada College, 75-68 in overtime, during a semifinal game on Friday. The Gauchos trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and never held the lead in the second half until Baker’s 3-point shot at the buzzer tied the game at 63’s to send it into overtime. Saddleback took control of the final minute of the overtime period, breaking a 68-68 tie to score the final seven points of the game and advance to the state championship. Clifford had 20 points in the semifinal game while Baker added 16 points and Josh Mishler came off the bench to add 13 points and grab five rebounds.
“Whenever we’re looking for a last shot, I want to take it. I want it to be me,” Baker said of the buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. “I wanted to get my legs under it. As soon as I flicked it off my wrist I knew I had a great touch on it and a great arc. I just knew it was going in.”
For his efforts, Baker was named as the state tournament MVP while Clifford and Haynes were also awarded all-tournament honors. Saddleback completed the season with a 33-2 overall record, one victory shy of the school record. It was the fourth time the men’s basketball team has won over 30 games.