By Dakari Thomas
As the clock ran down to zero and players began rejoicing with their families, the City College Rams completed their historic season on March 13 with a California Community College Athletics Association (CCCAA) State Championship win over the reigning champion Saddleback College Gauchos 68-57.
Head coach Justin Labagh now has two state titles under his belt as he brings City College its third state title with wins in 1962 and 2011, respectively.
The final game was similar to every Rams game this season, with the Gauchos’ only lead coming from the game’s initial basket. From then on, the Rams’ tight play by means of their stifling defense and relentless offensive rebounding kept them in the lead.
The Rams’ high-flying athleticism and shooting ability shined as they finished at the rim in transition and knocked down clutch 3-pointers. Meanwhile,the Gauchos ran a multitude of defensive plays centered around their pair of 6’8” forwards Lyle Hexom and Breaon Brady in an attempt to slow down the pace of the game.
Though the Rams were held to a lethargic 35 percent shooting from the field in the first half, they weathered the storm by putting Saddleback in foul trouble and scoring a high free throw percentage. A small run before the half had the Rams leading the Gauchos 33-22.
The final featured the Rams’ second lowest halftime scoring period this season, their lowest being against Skyline Community College, where the Rams only managed 28 points. Yet they still had the Gauchos presumably right where they wanted them, coming out rolling on both ends of the court as they aimed to build on their lead. The Rams applied full court presses and half court traps after scoring to produce the turnovers and high-tempo play they needed to win.
“The work these guys put in and their ability to receive coaching is second to none.”
—Head Coach Justin Labagh
The Ram’s pace and defense began to deplete the morale of the Gauchos, as the Rams drew turnovers and unnecessary fouls from their opponents. Sophomore forward Jalen Canty found himself in foul trouble as he began to takeover the game inside the paint with a series of post scores.
When Canty was double-teamed, sophomore guards Troy Thompson and Zach Copeland were left open and ended up combining for 30 of their team’s points, which helped push the Rams to a 53-35 lead late in the second half.
The Gauchos fought hard and brought their point deficit down to only 10, but the inevitability of the Rams’ state title victory became ever more apparent. Beating the defense with slick passing, the Rams passed the ball to sophomore forward Shon Briggs, who laid it up for a two-handed exclamation point by Jalen Canty.
The Rams fans cheered loudly as the final buzzer rang, and the exhausted Rams embraced and chest bumped each other before shaking the hands of their opponents. The nets were cut off and put on Coach Labagh’s neck just before the tournament’s awards were presented and three Rams players earned individual awards.
Sophomore Guards Trevor Dunbar and Zach Copeland earned All-Tournament team honors and Jalen Canty lifted the Tournament MVP trophy; then the team gathered around the illustrious State Championship trophy for pictures.
When reflecting on his journey and the season, Canty couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
“I’m so happy I came here,” Canty said. “I played with Trevor and Shon for the [Oakland] Soldiers and once they told me they were going here, I knew I was. Labagh already has a State Championship so I knew he could lead us. It feels good to be the MVP, but how could I have done it without these guys?”
This state championship is the second of the 2015-2016 school year for City College. In December, the Rams won the CCCAA state football title in a match also against the Saddleback College Gauchos.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys, but I’d be lying if I said I was surprised. The work these guys put in and their ability to receive coaching is second to none,” Labagh said.
Amidst swirling rumors about universities lobbying for his services, Labaugh made it clear where his allegiance lies. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
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Send an email to: Dakari Thomas