The Saddleback men's basketball team improved to 4-0 on Saturday night with an 82-80 win at Antelope Valley College. The Gauchos bolted out of the gate and held off a late rally by the Marauders.
Saddleback has practically an entirely new roster and is still in the process of trying to find out what they have. The two returning starters were never in question and guided the rest of the kids to the finish line on Saturday. Sophomore T.J. Shorts had a game-high 28 points while sophomore Breaon Brady had 25, accounting for 65% of the teams points.
Saddleback put on a sensational display to start the game, overwhelming Antelope Valley over the first six minutes. The Gauchos scored the first 10 points of the game and then led 24-3 with still 14:22 left in the opening half while the Marauders couldn't buy a basket. Brady had 10 of his points during the stretch while Antelope Valley missed 11 of its first 12 shots from the field.
As good as the start appeared, Saddleback didn't finish the half the way they would have liked. Antelope Valley went on a 27-15 run to close out the half, narrowing the gap to 39-30. The Gauchos took a 20-point lead on a three-pointer by Jake Hawes, but made only 1-of-8 shots down the stretch in letting the big lead disappear.
The second half saw AVC narrow the gap as Saddleback had a couple of cold stretches. The Gauchos failed to score for 2:14 while Antelope Valley got hot. A nine point lead completely disappeared when Osinachi Nwachukwu scored seven straight points to tie the game at 49-49 with 11:47 remaining.
Saddleback quickly responded with six of their own behind Brady and Hawes, but it was becoming apparent that the Gauchos were going to be in a dogfight the rest of the way. Antelope Valley continued to chip away at the lead and eventually took its only lead of the game at 59-58 when Charles Hall made two free throws with 6:11 left on the clock.
The two veterans then jumped in for Saddleback and put the team on their backs. Shorts and Brady scored the next 15 points for the Gauchos as they grabbed back the lead at 73-66 with just over two minutes remaining.
Freshmen Reggie Varner and Justin Faison then got into the act, getting to the free throw line and converting as Saddleback led by six (77-71) with 40 seconds remaining. Cory Dollarhide kept AVC in the game by converting on four straight free throws of his own as the Marauders cut the lead back to 77-75 with 30 seconds remaining.
Shorts then finished off the Marauders, scoring the final five points for Saddleback and showing why he was the Orange Empire Conference MVP last season. The sophomore commit to UC Davis finished 8-of-12 from the field on the night, also finishing with a game-high six assists while finishing the game with four fouls.
The win gives Saddleback a 4-0 start for a fourth straight season. The Gauchos now have a week to prepare for a tough road trip to Chaffey College next Saturday.