Saddleback College’s men’s basketball team and coaching staff huddle for a celebratory team photo following their third state championship. (Photo courtesy of Jason Boggs/CCCAA Sports)
The Saddleback Gauchos men’s basketball team are the 2015 California Community College Athletic Association state champions after defeating the East Los Angeles College Huskies 50-47 on Sunday.
This is Saddleback College’s third state championship in the last 14 years. Gauchos head coach Andy Ground, who has been involved in all three championships, shared how he felt on the his third title.
“It feels pretty good! The guys really battled hard and the other team was a really good opponent,” Ground said. “We never quit, never die, we are going to be play until it ends and the buzzer rings.”
The Gauchos started the game slow getting behind 10-2 after three three-pointers by the Huskies. Saddleback then went on a 7-0 run and took the lead midway through the first half. East LA would take that lead right back and go on a stretch of scoring that brought the score up to 26-17 with 6:07 left in the half.
Saddleback once again came back this time with some ferocity and at halftime the Gauchos had cut the lead to three, the score being 28-25. Saddleback guard Andrew Bournes was the scoring leader for the Gauchos at the half with nine points. Center Conor Clifford was close behind with eight points.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Bournes said. “We worked hard and we didn’t get down at all, not one minute in the game.”
When the second half began East LA got out to another great start, quickly scoring five points and taking a 33-25 lead. The two teams then went back and forth with Saddleback gradually coming back and with around 12 minutes to go, the Gauchos tied it at 36. East LA would hit a big three-pointer their next possession, causing Ground to call a timeout and they led 39-36.
Once again the teams battled. Nobody took a significant lead and neither team budged. After four minutes the scoring was at just 44-40, East LA in the lead. Another three minutes of turnovers and good defense had the score at 45-42 with 4:38 remaining in the game.
Sophomore Dusty Baker drives past a East Los Angeles defender. Baker was named tournament MVP. (Photo courtesy of Jason Boggs/CCCAA Sports)
Saddleback played fantastic defense down the stretch, only allowing the Huskies two more points the entire game. Bournes alluded to this after the game, explaining that Ground had stressed playing good defense.
“Like my coach said, as long as we play defense great success will happen,” Bournes said.
The Gauchos took the lead for the first time since early in the first half when forward Dusty Baker hit a shot with 1:28 remaining to make the score 46-45. Baker got a layup on Saddleback’s next possession and gave the Gauchos a three point lead with just over a minute remaining
After two free throws by the Huskies the score was brought back to 48-47. Saddleback guard Maleke Haynes came up clutch on the Gauchos next possession when he made an acrobatic layup with just 11 seconds to go in the game to make the score 50-47. Saddleback stole the ball a few seconds later, but Haynes turned the ball right back over to East LA, giving them one more chance to tie the game with just 0.6 seconds on the clock
On the ensuing inbounds pass, Baker stole the ball and the game was over. Baker, who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, gave most of the credit to his teammates after the game.
“Can’t say enough about our guys and we worked hard since June and it all payed off,” Baker said. “We have high character guys who don’t give up and keep playing until the end of the whistle. A lot of guys are banged up at the end of the season and not feeling well, but we gave it all that we could and luckily we held out.”
Bournes shared the same thoughts as Baker and also praised Ground for his coaching throughout the season.
“We knew as long as we sticked together it would come out great for us. We knew exactly what is what going to take to reach this level,” said Bournes. “Coach Ground did an amazing job coaching us and we just worked hard everyday.”
Haynes, who hit the final shot in the game, also shared his thoughts on the win.
“It feels awesome, best feeling in the world,” Haynes said. “We just stuck together man, the whole season we just stuck together and took it game by game and it feels great.”
Saddleback is in a select class now having won three state championships. They are only the ninth community college with three or more titles in the state of California. This is also the only state championship this year for any Saddleback athletic team.