After a week of close games and having their long winning streak snapped, Saddleback College looked to add to a new streak. The Gauchos, ranked No. 9 in California and No. 5 in Southern California, were coming off of a tough defensive victory in Santa Ana and looked to get their second victory against Orange Coast College this season on Friday.
The first meeting between the Gauchos and the Pirates was a close battle won in the final minutes 68-65 by Saddleback at OCC on Jan. 14. Friday’s game brought another tight contest between the conference rivals.
Franklin Session got the Gauchos off to a quick start with 12 of his team-high 22 points in the first five minutes of the game. Despite the quick start, neither team could get too far away from the other as the first half ended with Saddleback up 36-31.
Sarunas Jackson sparked the Gauchos early in a see-saw second half with an interesting five play sequence in which he alternated three baskets and two blocks. This sequence gave Saddleback a 10 point lead. Session scored his first points since his early first half burst at the 12 minute mark of the second half.
OCC and Saddleback alternated baskets for the middle part of the second half. Two of the Gauchos’ middle baskets were tremendous “alley-oop” dunks finished by Elijah York and Jackson.
OCC brought the lead to five points after a nine-to-three run. After an OCC three-pointer at the end of that run, Saddleback took back control of the game with an eight-point run. Session put an exclamation mark on that run with a thunderous, one-handed dunk to give the Gauchos a 69-58 lead.
As was the nature of this game, the Pirates wouldn’t let Saddleback take this game so easily. OCC ramped up their defensive pressure in the final minutes of the game with an aggressive, full-court press which forced the Gauchos into several turnovers. OCC turned these turnovers into quick points and shaved the Saddleback lead to two points at 79-77.
Kevin Menner put in a late bucket put Saddleback up by 4 points with under a minute to play. OCC’s Chris Curtis brought victory back within the Pirates’ reach by knocking down a three-point shot with 5.9 seconds left on the clock. OCC quickly fouled Session, who missed his two free throw shots. Session made up for the miss on the ensuing play by blocking OCC’s final attempt as the buzzer sounded on an 81-80 Saddleback victory.
Session and Menner led the Gauchos in points with 22 and 21 points, respectively. Menner and Session also dominated on the boards with nine and eight rebounds, respectively. Kyle Wallace led the team in assists with six, and Jackson led the team in blocks with five.
The victory brings Saddleback’s record to 22-6 overall and 7-1 in Orange Empire Conference play. Saddleback returns to the court Wednesday in the second leg of the inaugural President’s Cup against their district rivals, Irvine Valley College. The game starts at 5:30 p.m. Saddleback follows up with a road game at Cypress College on Friday. Saddleback returns home against Fullerton on Feb. 18.