NORWALK – Like a long-distance runner, it isn't the start that matters but the finish. Saddleback proved that theory also works in the gym as the Gauchos defeated East Los Angeles College, 50-47, on Sunday afternoon to capture its third state championship title.
Saddleback (33-2) spotted East Los Angeles an 8-point lead to open the game (10-2) before going on an 11-2 run to take its only lead of the first half, 13-12. The Huskies rebuilt the lead to nine points (26-17) with just over five minutes remaining in the period before Saddleback cut the deficit to three at the intermission, 28-25.
East Los Angeles (22-11) led for most of the second half by as many as six points before Saddleback knotted the score at 36's. The Gauchos had the Huskies in their sight but were not yet ready to make their move until the final stretch. That came with under three minutes to play when Saddleback finally took their first lead of the second half, 46-45. The Gauchos would not relinquish that lead for the remainder of the game although East Los Angeles did get within one at 48-47.
The Huskies held a 44-40 lead with 8:32 remaining but failed to score a field goal for the remainder of the game, settling only for three free throws against a Saddleback defense that did a better job in the second half of containing the Huskie ball-handlers. Saddleback's 50 points in a winning effort was the third lowest winning score of all-time and the lowest winning score since 1985. The 97 combined points also proved to be the third lowest two-team total and the lowest combined scores since 1985.
Saddleback's 7'0" sophomore center, Conor Clifford, had 16 points and six rebounds while sophomore guard Andrew Bournes added 14 points. But the play of point guard Maleke Haynes made the difference in the state tournament for the Gauchos as he tallied 12 points in the semifinal victory over Canada College and then dished out seven assists and grabbed four rebounds in the championship game, including the final defensive rebound which he threw the length of the court, bouncing it off the backboard to run out most of the clock.
East Los Angeles' freshman forward Marquis Salmon tallied 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Huskies.
Saddleback shot 48 percent from the field while limiting the Huskies to 31 percent from the field. East Los Angeles was able to make up some ground at the free throw line, connecting on nearly 70 percent of their charity shots (11 of 16). Saddleback, which didn't shoot any free throws in the first half, ended up hitting four of five free throws.
Saddleback guard Dusty Baker was selected as the state tournament MVP with eight points and five rebounds in the championship game following his miraculous 30-footer to send the semifinal game into overtime. Teammates Conor Clifford and Maleke Haynes also earned state tournament honors while Marquis Salmon and Primitivo Gomez earned state tournament honors for East Los Angeles. Canada College's Crisshawn Clark also earned state tournament honors.
Saddleback previously captured state titles in 2002 and 2010 with head coach Andy Ground responsible for the 2010 title. This was the first-ever state championship appearance for East Los Angeles.
CCCAA stats and stories provided by the California Community College Sports Information Association.