Dusty Baker (#25, center) gets high-fives from his teams during introductions. The Gauchos finished the season 28-2 and are headed to the playoffs with high seed. (Courtesy of Saddleback Sports Information)
The Saddleback Gauchos men’s basketball team finished off their season in winning fashion, defeating its last three opponents and capturing the Orange Empire Conference championship for nineteenth time in school history. The Gauchos ended up with a 28-2 overall record and a 11-1 conference record, only losing to Riverside City College in conference play. They also won their last seven games to end an amazing season.
Saddleback started out by crushing Fullerton College on Feb. 10. The Gauchos started out bad early and trailed 8-2, but pressed on the gas pedal and ended up going on a 34-10 scoring run, leading at halftime 46-24. After the break, Saddleback continued its offensive on-slot and won the game by the score of 88-57. Sophomore guard Andrew Bournes scored a team high 19 points and freshman guard Dusty Baker led the team in rebounds and assists with five of each. This win gave Saddleback a share of the OEC championship.
Next up, the Gauchos conquered the only team that had defeated them in conference play, Riverside City College, 69-56. With this win, Saddleback clinched the OEC championship outright and solidified themselves a high seed going into the playoffs. Baker scored an outstanding 24 points in the game, leading the team in scoring. Baker’s running mate Bournes also had a big day, scoring 19 points.
Head coach Andy Ground was happy about his teams effort, but thought that they should have played better the first time around against Riverside.
“I am glad that our guys had the fortitude to step up and play much better than they did the first time around,” said Ground. “We should have beat them twice.”
Saddleback ended its season on a great note, beating Orange Coast College 92-69. It was only the fourth time the Gauchos had scored 90 or more points in a game this season and was Saddleback’s home finale.
When asked about the upcoming playoff tournament, Ground explained what he thinks the journey will be like this season.
“It’s going to be a difficult task, there is a lot of good teams out there and we just gotta take it one game at a time,” said Ground. “You have got to have luck and skill and your guys have to make baskets and defend it well to beat those teams.”
“It’s a difficult road to travel to be honest,” continued Ground. “But, I think we have a chance and I believe we are as good as anybody and have as good a opportunity as anybody else in the tournament.”
With Saddleback’s size in the post, having two seven-footers, you would think they would have an advantage both offensively and defensively. According to Ground, “basketball is a game of match-ups.” He explained that on the offensive side of the ball they have an advantage, but when it comes to defense, many teams have big men that can shot from the perimeter and his big men can’t get out to cover them.
As far as seeding for the upcoming playoff tournament goes, coach Ground believes that his team will be a high seed.
“I think we will be two, that’s my guess, but we could drop to three.”
With a seed that high, the Gauchos will have home field advantage in their first game, but this does not matter to Ground as he says that being the home team has not favored them in the past.
“I used to think it did but I don’t anymore, because we always play well on the road,” said Ground. “Our worst games the past few seasons have been at home.”
The Gauchos find out their seeding and who they play on Monday, Feb. 23.