Saddleback guard Jalen Hall (No. 20) rises up for a layup against a Bakersfield College defender as forward Lyle Hexom (white headband) looks on. The Gauchos will play East Los Angeles College in the CCCAA Southern California finals on Saturday. (Nick Nenad/Lariat)
In what was one of their most thrilling games of the season, the Saddleback College men’s basketball team prevailed over Bakersfield College in overtime, 64-56. The win places the Gauchos in the regional finals of the Southern California version of the California Community College Athletic Association playoff bracket.
Both of the teams played a good defensive game and there wasn’t much scoring or pace in the first half. After 11 minutes had gone by in the half, the score was only 11-7, Saddleback having the lead. The pace of the game didn’t improve until the very end of the half, when the Gauchos went on a small scoring run to go into the halftime break leading 26-16.
Saddleback forward Josh Mishler, who played 37 or the 45 minutes in the game, thought both teams had scouted each other well and had come prepared with a good game plan in the first half.
“I think it was both of our defenses. We came out and I think each team knew the other’s stuff,” Mishler said. “We pride ourselves on our defense and we figure our offense can take care of itself.”
Bakersfield came out hot after halftime. The Renegades went on a quick 6-0 scoring run to start the half, causing the Gauchos to call a timeout with 17:31 left in the game. Saddleback still had a 26-22 lead, but it was diminishing quickly.
“[Bakersfield] came out and took it to us,” said Saddleback head coach Andy Ground. “They got three straight layups and closed the gap.”
For the next few minutes Bakersfield could not tie or take the lead and Saddleback kept their four point lead. This changed when Bakersfield finally took the lead with around eight minutes to go in the game. This also changed the momentum in favor of the Renegades.
Bakersfield extended their lead to five at one point but the Gauchos quickly closed the gap, retaking the lead with 2:50 remaining in the contest.
“Bakersfield had the momentum … we battled through it and we made some plays down the stretch,” Ground said.
Saddleback guard TJ Shorts splits a couple of Bakersfield College defenders as he attempts a shot. Shorts ended up with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals (Nick Nenad/Lariat)
For the next two minutes, the teams went back and forth, each taking the lead and with 47.2 seconds to go, the Renegades had a 50-48 lead. Then, with 18.9 seconds on the clock, Saddleback forward Breaon Brady grabbed an offensive rebound and tied the game with a layup. Bakersfield had a chance to win the game on the next possession, but there shot attempt barely missed and the game went into overtime.
The Gauchos turned on the jets in overtime and after a few minutes of play, they had a 59-52 lead. The Renegades made a small comeback, to make the score 59-56, but Saddleback made a couple of highlights plays, one of which was a posturizing dunk by forward Lyle Hexom that was called a charge, to run the clock out and win the game.
“I knew it was going to be a dog fight, they’re a very good team,” Ground said. “They caused a lot of problems with their quickness and their athleticism and they really drive the ball well.”
Mishler thought the Gauchos had a little bit of luck on their side, but credited the hard-fought win to defense and rebounding.
“Some luck, but I think we deserved that one, we worked really hard for that [win],” Mishler said. “It came down to rebounding and just trying to get stops and then we were able to attack the basket and get buckets.”
A big key to Saddleback’s victory was getting Bakersfield’s top scorer, Deandre Dickson to foul out 2:24 into overtime. Dickson had already scored 14 points and grabbed 17 rebounds and being the Renegades tallest player, his elimination left them with no size to combat Saddleback’s attack.
“He was a great player for their team, so it was a big deal for us to get him fouled out, because he was there only big,” Hexom said.
Ground reiterated what Hexom said and added that he was a “monster down low” and that he could “really score the ball.”
The Gauchos will now turn their attention to a familier foe, East Los Angeles College, in the Southern California finals. Last season, Saddleback defeated ELAC, 50-47, to win its third state championship in school history.
After having to get through a gritty Bakersfield team and now play a school they played in the state title game last year, Ground is definitive that Saddleback’s bracket is the toughest.
“[Bakersfield] is probably one of the top-three teams in [Southern California],” Ground said. “I thought our bracket was the toughest bracket.”
The Gauchos will host ELAC on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Gauchos guard TJ Shorts battles through contact to attempt a layup against Bakersfield College on Saturday. The Gauchos will play a rematch of last season’s state championship game against East Los Angeles College after defeating Bakersfield, 64-56. (Nick Nenad/Lariat)