The Saddleback men's basketball team saw its season come to a premature ending on Saturday with a 79-67 loss at home to Antelope Valley College. The Gauchos ran into a buzzsaw as the Marauders shot nearly 70% from the field.
Saddleback spent most of the season ranked in the top three in the state and entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the southern half of the state. Antelope Valley showed no respect for the rankings, seeds or hype around the Gaucho program, playing like it was an NBA All Star Game. The Marauders shot 67% in the opening half and 73% in the second, making 7-of-8 shots from beyond the arc and shooting down a balloon that was planning on landing in Northern California in less than two weeks at the state tournament.
Saddleback came out cold, scoring just seven points over the first 11 minutes of the game. The game was tied at 5-5 with 14:25 remaining in the half when the Gauchos went silent, making just one basket over a 8:09 stretch and allowing Antelope Valley to take a 24-8 lead. The lone basket was a shot by T.J. Shorts to cut the deficit to 8-7 with 13:04 remaining and the next time Saddleback would make a shot from the field was when Breaon Brady made a layup with 6:18 remaining to cut the deficit to 24-10.
The Gauchos finally found their range when Reggie Varner came off the bench to hit a couple of three-pointers before the half, cutting the lead to 31-21 with 2:09 remaining. Nick Crankshaw would again slice the lead to 10 with a long-range jumper from the corner with two seconds remaining as AVC went to the locker room with a 36-26 advantage.
Saddleback looked like a team with a purpose coming out of the locker room. Colin Ferrier buried another three-pointer on the opening possession as the Gauchos got within seven for the first time in nearly 12 minutes. Antone Warren answered for Antelope Valley with a slam dunk, only to be followed by a three-pointer from Reggie Byers and a jumper from Jailen Gill as the lead again rose to 14 points with just under 17 minutes remaining.
In a nutshell, it was a trend that would continue throughout the rest of the game. The Gauchos would make a mini run, only to see it halted by the hot-shooting Marauders. Saddleback cut the lead all the way down to five after a layup by Brady with 5:10 remaining, only to see Corey Dollarhide answer just 20 seconds later with a shot from beyond the arc. The Gauchos cut the lead back to five when Shorts hit from long range, only to see Antelope Valley score four points in a matter of seconds as Byers made a jumper and the inbounds pass was stolen for a layup from D'Mauria Jones. Saddleback never got within five the rest of the way as the Gauchos went 0-for-5 from long range in the final minutes, with the lone baskets coming on layups from Shorts.
Shorts finished with a game-high 20 points for the game, making 8-of-11 shots from the field. Brady finished with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, but was only able to collect four rebounds after getting into foul trouble midway through the opening half.
Dolarshide led AVC with 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field as Antelope Valley missed just 13 shots from the field for the entire 40 minutes.
It was a sour ending to what was building to be a sweet finish. The Gauchos entered the playoffs with the No. 1 defense in the state, only to see a team come in and shoot 69.8% from the field and 85.5% from three-point range. At some point, you just tip your cap to the opponent and say nice effort.
The premature ending leaves the Gauchos with a 24-5 finish to the season while Antelope Valley (21-10) will head to Citrus College for a game against the Owls next Saturday in the regional finals.