By Ryan Kuhn
City College and the Saddleback College Gauchos faced each other one year ago on the exact same court, resulting in the Rams losing by six points.
But City College robbed history of a repeat on March 11 and beat the Gauchos in the California Community College Athletic Association’s semifinal men’s basketball game.
Saddleback had a chance to tie the game at 63 on a 3-point basket with 36 seconds left but came up short, propelling the Rams to the championship game, 65-60.
The Gauchos slow style of play set the game’s tempo early and caused City College’s offense to struggle. The Rams shot only 37 percent for the game and finished with their lowest total points since December.
Rams head coach Justin LaBagh said he knew the game’s pace would be slow but that City College could win at any tempo.
“If it’s a fast game we can step up and play a fast game,” LaBagh said. “If it’s a slow game we can play that too.”
Leading scorer Collin Chiverton struggled to find his shot and scored only five points on 2-12 from the field, but freshman Ivan Dorsey took up the slack, coming off the bench with 14 points.
“He stepped up. Everybody has to contribute if we are going to win this whole thing,” LaBagh said. “That’s all we can ask.”
Dorsey, one of the five freshmen on the team, scored nine of his 14 points in the second half and also hit key shots including a 3-point play late in the second half.
“[My teammates] just set the screen, got me open and I knocked down the open shot,” Dorsey said.
Saddleback’s slow tempo and Gauchos center Wendell Raines’ physical inside presence caused City College center Myron Respress to get into foul trouble early, and the Rams had to quickly adapt.
“[Saddleback] played really tough,” Dorsey said. “They ran the clock down and got it down to the big man, but we made the adjustment and we were able to guard it.”
Raines finished with a season high 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds before having to be taken out late in the second half because of leg cramps.
The game did not get away from anyone. The lead exchanged hands 12 times and neither team lead by more than seven points.
After City College went into the locker room up six, the Gauchos took the lead, 32-31, with seven straight points.
The momentum switched as Dorsey and Rams center Yoan Zola made big baskets while being fouled.
Each team answered the other and after a 5-0 run by Saddleback with 1:29 left in the game, point guard De’End Parker hit a 3-pointer in the corner, changing the momentum one last time in favor of City College. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
As time expired and players shook hands, smiles were on the City College sophomores’ faces as they received redemption from last year’s loss. But to Parker, it’s not about the victory, it’s about the bigger picture.
“We prepared well for them because we played them last year, and we weren’t going to make the same mistakes,” he said. “To be honest, it feels great but I’m not here to be in the Final Four. I’m here to win a championship.”
The Rams will take on Citrus College who won their semifinal game against Fresno City, 94-84, on March 13. Tip off will be at 1 p.m.