Gauchos get it to overtime, but fall short in State final

Kevin Menner goes for the bucket (courtesy of Jerry Hannula, Saddleback Athletics)

John Franz, Sports Editor

FRESNO — It was a bittersweet feeling for Saddleback College at the men’s basketball State Championships in Fresno, California. The Gauchos were down most of the game. In fact, Saddleback led only once, 7-5, during the entire game.

The teams tied the score at 58 with 20.8 seconds left in regulation. Saddleback took charge of its own destiny after Riverside threw an inbound pass out of bounds.

With only four seconds remaining, Kevin Menner could not hit the shot, and the game went into overtime. The Tigers scored 10 unanswered points and eventually become State Champions of the California Community College Athletic Association, winning 69-60.

“It was a fun year, but we just got beat by a better team tonight,” Saddleback coach Andy Ground said. “We got off to such a bad start, and we got ourselves into such a big hole. In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

The Gauchos started the game being out-played by the Tigers, and it seemed like Riverside was getting most of the breaks. Loose balls were going right to them, shots would rim out, and it looked as if fate was not on Saddleback’s side.

The Tigers leading scorer was David Norris with 22. Norris also earned All-Tournament Most Valuable Player.

“This is a special team and very resilient team. I’ve been saying it all along,” Riverside coach John Smith said. “The last time Riverside won the State, my father was the point guard on that team, and I’m able to bring it back full circle. My father and I both played for the same coach, Jerry Tarkanian, my father (at Riverside), and I did at UNLV. I’m very proud of our guys.”

Saddleback was down, 34-22, at halftime, but the Gauchos never dipped their heads. Saddleback stormed back, and outscored the Tigers by 12 to tie the game at the end of regulation. Down three with 28 seconds left in regulation, the Gauchos got a defensive stop, and Aaron Woods would tie the game with a clutch three-pointer.

Woods finished with 10 points in the game.

After a Tiger miscue on an inbound play with 20 seconds remaining, the Gauchos would get the ball back. Menner would get the ball in the lane, but he couldn’t hit the shot.

Menner finished with a game high, 22 points.

“They had a good team, and they came to play,” Menner said. “They out-worked us, and they came away with the ring.”

“I was expecting a good game. We weren’t focusing on them. We knew what they do. We just had to focus on our game,” Riverside guard Robbie Robinson said. “They have two real good players, Session and Menner, and we put the brakes on them today. We slowed them down. They are a great team and have a great bunch of guys.”

Frankin Session got Saddleback back in the game with all-out effort on both ends of the court. Session made several defensive plays and rebounded the basketball extremely well. Session finished the game with 14 points and 16 rebounds.

“We made a great run this year, and we came up short in the end,” Session said. ” Our best point man couldn’t make shots and we couldn’t rebound the ball.”

The Gauchos finished this season with a record of 29-8, while Riverside finished the year 30-7.

“We were No. 2 in the State out of 110 community colleges. That’s pretty good,” Saddleback president Tod A. Burnett said. “We forced overtime, and it says a lot about our team. First-year coach Andy Ground did a great job, and I’m very proud of this team and very proud of Saddleback College.”

Perhaps the most telling stat in the game was the overtime field goal percentage. The Gauchos were just 1 of 10 from the field, while Riverside was two of six and made seven of eight free throws.

The 2008-09 Gauchos won the Orange Empire Conference and made it to the CCCAA State Championship, and even in defeat, Saddleback still had one heck of a year.

Congratulations to Coach Andy Ground, his staff, and the members of the 2008-09 Saddleback Gauchos on a great season. The Lariat staff would also like to congratulate the CCCAA State Champion and OEC rival Riverside Tigers.

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Billy Azizi defends the Gauchos (courtesy of Jerry Hannula, Saddleback Athletics)