Gauchos head to State Championship on the back of T.J. Lipold

Terrell Mack attempts a flying shot over Chaffey College’s Lamar Williams in Saturday night’s 63-61 victory. The Gauchos play March 12-15 in Fresno for the CCCAA title. (Andrew Bennett)

John Franz, Sports Editor

In an exhilarating turn of events, Saddleback College punched its ticket to the men’s state basketball tournament Saturday night, beating visiting Chaffey College, 63-61, on a last-second shot by guard Tony Lipold.

Lipold’s three-point basket with 4.9 seconds remaining to be played gave the Gauchos a three-point lead. Chaffey forward Winston Robinson was fouled on the inbounds play. He made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. But a Panther defender was called for stepping into the key too early on Robinson’s second attempt. Saddleback got the ball back and ran out the clock.

The Gauchos open the California Community College Athletic Association finals Thursday at Selland Arena against an opponent to be determined.

Lipold finished with just eight points, but his contribution on the floor, as they have been all year, were immeasurable, according to Coach Andy Ground.

“T.J. is the glue, Ground said. “He has always been the guy that holds this team together both offensively and defensively. It couldn’t of happened to a better kid.”

The game went back and forth the final minutes befor Lipold sank the go-ahead points. With the score tied at 60, Lipold hit the potential game-winning three pointer. The basket put the Gauchos up 63-60.

“This shot was a lot better,” Lipold said. “The other one was important. We won conference. But this kept us alive. I always envisioned making the game-winning shot when I was a kid.”

Lipold finished the game with eight points, including two of three from beyond the arc. He also had six rebounds and two steals.

“When T.J.’s shot went up, I had butterflies in my stomach,” Menner said. “If the shot were to have missed, I would have rebounded that ball so hard. It’s a wonderful feeling”.

The Gauchos quickly fouled on the inbound, and the Panthers could not get a three-point shot up in time.

Chaffey forward Winston Robinson made the first free throw and he missed the second free throw purposely, but a Panther stepped into the zone too early giving the Gauchos the ball back as well as the game, with the final score 63-61.

“Thank God,” Ground said of Lipold’s heroics. “It was absolutely a special feeling after six months of working to accomplish one of our goals.”

The top-ranked Gauchos, after winning 22 of 24 games, came into this one following a victory over Cerritos last weekend. The eighth-ranked Panthers beat Bakersfield last week.

The Gauchos came out ready for the Panthers’ fast-paced style of play and upped their game as well.

The first half could have been called the “Menner and Green” show. Kevin Menner finished the game with 26 points and seven rebounds. Marquis Green finished with 10 points in the game, all in the first half.

The Gauchos showed incredible defense near the end of the first half, including two outstanding blocks by Menner and Lipold on the same Chaffey possession. After Terrell Mack hit two free throws, then blocked a shot which resulted in a basket of his own to push the Gaucho lead 35-28 at halftime.

However, there was another half yet to be played and no one was packing bags for Fresno just yet.

The Panthers looked like a whole new team in the second half. The Gauchos were up, 46-34, when the Panthers went on an incredible run, tying the game at 55 with a little under five minutes to play.

Saddleback now heads to Fresno for the California Community College Athletic Association finals at Selland Arena in Fresno, Thursday through Saturday, March 12-15. The Gauchos opponent for the first round at State is yet to be determined. 

 “We played well defensively and the team showed tremendous character,” Ground said. “We’re worried about everybody at state, but first, we have got to worry about the first game.”

Andrew Bennett contributed to this article.

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