Gauchos center Conner Clifford (42) blocks a shot by Pierce’s Devron Reynolds (3) (Dominic D. Ebel)
In the second round of the California Community College Athletic Association regional championships, the Los Angeles Pierce College Brahmas were finished off by the Saddleback College men’s basketball team by the score of 78-52.
Pierce, the co-champions of the Western State North Conference, were no match for the No. 2 seed and Orange Empire Conference champion Gauchos on Saturday night.
Saddleback towered over the Brahmas in the post, which was their clear advantage in this game. Pierce’s only chance to win was to gamble, by pressing the Gauchos in a full court man to man defense. They pressured the ball relentlessly, but Saddleback took that to their advantage and got many easy opportunities to score.
“There was a lot of problems defensively as they closed off quickly on our players which caused mistakes on our behalf,” head coach Andy Ground said. “We just wanted to pound the ball inside as we did in the second half and get into the bonus.”
The Gauchos freshman guard Maleke Haynes was a main recipient of Pierce’s pressure defense and he converted nine out of 12 of his free throws and ended up with 14 points in the game.
The Gauchos shot 58 percent from the field and could have been even better if it were not for the 31 fouls and technical foul that were called in the game. Pierce’s head coach Ed Babayon was the recipient of the technical and was later warned about a potential second, that would have gotten him ejected from the game.
“Ed Babayon is a fiery competitor no matter what,” Ground said. “We just kept getting free throws.”
Pierce had tremendous speed at guard in sophomore J.R. Williams that Saddleback matched with sophomore guard Andrew Bournes, who was playing with an injured shoulder. A major obstacle for Pierce was the tough match up for sophomore center Trey Archambeau who is only six feet seven inches tall compared to his Gaucho counterpart Conor Clifford, who stands at seven feet tall. Archambeau was quicker, but due to his height lost the battle as Clifford finished with the most rebounds and points out of any player in the game.
“This team was fast and athletic,” Clifford said. “I like the fast paced games.”
“We played really well today. Everybody did what they were supposed to do and we came out and got the win,” sophomore forward Collin Host said.
Saddleback freshman guard Josh Mishler contributed some quality drives off the break, as well as freshman guard Jalen Hall. This track meet style of play and the constant running up and down the court gave opportunities for seven foot sophomore center Kyle Hoag.
“We could of had a little bit more movement as we didn’t execute great on the offensive end probably because of their defense,” Ground said. ”They really did a good job putting pressure up front that took some stuff away, so we had to overcome it, securing the win.”
Freshman guard Dusty Baker finished with nine points just before the second half that changed the momentum with his surge making it 29-23 at halftime.
“Our goal was to start out quick and not let go,” Baker said. “I thought it was important to play at home and get our nerves out of the way.
With the win, Saddleback will advance to the third round and now have a 29-2 record. They will meet up with seventh seeded Mt. San Jacinto College at Saddleback College, Friday at 7 p.m.