The Saddleback men's basketball team saw its 25-game winning streak come to an end on Sunday in the California Community College Athletic Association state title game in Livermore, California, falling to City College of San Francisco, 68-57. The Gauchos played gamely in the defensive end but couldn't catch a break against a talented CCSF squad that was playing amongst their own at the Northern California venue.
Saddleback controlled the tempo of the game, holding a San Francisco team that averaged nearly 90 points-per-game to just 68. They scored an even 35 in the second half. However, a second straight, sloppy first half was the undoing as the Gauchos were down 33-22 at the intermission. Unlike the previous night in the semifinals, it caught up with them against San Francisco, a deep team with plenty of shooters.
San Francisco guard Zach Copeland was the difference-maker, draining three-pointers whenever Saddleback would get within striking distance. Copeland finished with a team-high 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting for the Rams, making 3-of-5 from downtown. He was somehow overlooked for the Tournament MVP after leading the team in scoring both nights, but was named to the all-tournament team for his efforts.
Saddleback's Lyle Hexom was arguably the best player on the court for the Gauchos all weekend. The sophomore from Omaha, Nebraska, led the Gauchos in scoring for a second straight night. Hexom finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting on Sunday after scoring a game-high 17 in the semifinals. Hexom was rewarded with an all-tournament tab along with Breaon Brady, who played most of the tournament on one foot.
Saddleback closed the gap to seven points on two occasions in the second half, but it was as close as they would get. The Gauchos went ice cold at the 13:25 mark after a three-pointer by Maurice Jones, going the next 3:22 without a point. San Francisco took advantage, rattling off 10 straight points and giving the Rams a 17-point lead with just over 10 minutes remaining. Saddleback was whistled for a number of fouls during the stretch and missed a bevy of easy shots, watching their title hopes disappear.
Saddleback finished the season 31-2, which was the third best winning percentage in program history. The Gauchos won a fifth straight Orange Empire Conference title in 2016...just one shy of a team record set from 1977 to 1982.
Even more important than any of the numbers and big plays during from the season was the character on display by the Gauchos on Sunday. Saddleback players displayed extreme poise in the face of a difficult time, taking the loss with grace and never making any excuses. It's something that often gets overlooked in team sports and infrequently gets talked about. Not only were they great players, but they were great guys.
Congrats Gauchos on another exciting and successful season!