Gauchos pull out close game

Jalen Hall hits a tough basket in the second half at Orange Coast College. The Gauchos are moving on to Riverside next week. (Lariat/Matthew Kirkland)

Jalen Hall hits a tough basket in the second half at Orange Coast College. The Gauchos are moving on to Riverside next week. (Lariat/Matthew Kirkland)

The Saddleback College men’s basketball team edged out Orange Coast College with a 70-66 win. Lyle Hexom led the way for the Gauchos with 16 points off the bench and great team composure late in the game secured this win.

Back to back close wins keep the Gauchos in first place of the Orange Empire Conference and their winning streak alive at 15 games. Saddleback head coach Andy Ground had time after the game to comment on this point in the season.

“The streak is irrelevant. Really, the only thing that is relevant is the league play,” Ground said. “Six more [league games] to go, one at a time. We are trying for another league championship, so it’s just one at a time.”

The Gauchos started off the game with energy and intensity. Saddleback held its largest lead of the game at 11 early in the first half but soon after the offense struggled to make shots. The Pirates were able to tie the game at 23 with 5:40 left in the half. Charles Trotter got the Gauchos offense flowing a little before half, hitting a three and pushing the lead to 34-29.

Orange Coast College started the second half with a full court press defense that was very effective. The Gauchos lost the lead for the first time in the second half, 35-34, with 17:40 remaining. The teams would trade the lead for the next few minutes until Saddleback seemed to be pulling away after two big free throws by Hexom, increasing the lead to 44-41.

OCC’s head coach received a warning for misconduct, which might have sparked the Pirates to turn up their level of play.

Saddleback could not quite establish their dominance and Orange Coast took back the lead, 46-44, with nine minutes left in the game. Over the next five minutes great plays from Jalen Hall and Breaon Brady along with clutch free throw shooting from T.J. Shorts and Hexom kept the Gauchos in front. Shorts commented on the team’s free throw shooting after the game.

“Free throw shooting is always one of our biggest emphasis, coming in, we knew as the game went on we obviously weren’t on offensively, so we had to just attack the basket. And as the game got tighter down the end we had to just make our free throws,” Shorts said.

The Pirates refused to go away and with the help of a few foul calls and good free throw shooting they got the Saddleback lead down to one with just over a minute left in the game. Head coach Ground used a timeout and got back control of the game. The final minute of play saw the Gauchos make 10 free throws to push the lead to six, 70-64. Orange Coast inbounded the ball with six seconds left and made a meaningless layup to make the final score, 70-66.

Saddleback travels to Riverside next week to play their third of four away games in a row. While this stretch will be tough the team seems to be taking a ‘one game at a time approach’, which Lyle Hexom echoed at the end of the game.

“I just play it day by day, I don’t really think about what’s ahead. I just think about what I’m going to do the day of the game,” Hexom said.