Fresno, here we come
Hopes of winning a state championship remain alive for the Yuba College men's basketball team.
Aaron Garner hit a jumper from the free throw line with five seconds left Saturday to give the 49ers a 68-67 win over visiting West Valley, their 16th consecutive victory.
With the win, Yuba heads to Fresno and the Elite 8. The 49ers play Ventura on Thursday at a time to be announced.
“I wanted to take the last shot,” Garner said after the game. “My shot was feeling good. I also wanted to make up for a turnover I made.”
Also Garner added, he and the rest of the 49ers did not want to lose a fourth straight time to the Vikings.
“That's got to be the biggest win in the history of this school's program,” 49ers coach Doug Cornelius said. “How about that for some excitement?”
No. 11 Yuba (27-7) looked like it might run away with the game in the first half, jumping out to a 10-point lead, 24-14, just past the midway point of the period. No. 14 West Valley (24-9) clawed its way back into the contest, getting within five at the half, 32-27.
Cornelius gave the Vikings credit for holding Demetrius Young, one of the 49ers' top three leading scorers, in check in the first half. Young had just four points.
“They did a really good job of guarding me in the first half,” Young said. “They had a guy in front and in back of me.”
With Young bottled up, it was up to Garner and Mareceo Rutledge, the other top two Yuba scorers, to keep the 49ers in the game in the first half. Rutledge scored 10 first-half points and Garner tallied 12.
“I knew I had to step it up in the first half,” Garner said.
West Valley kept up its first-half momentum at the start of the second half, drawing even, 34-34, just minutes into the period. From that point on, the two teams battled close the rest of the way.
Yuba did take a 59-54 lead with six minutes to go thanks to a rebound by Young. Two minutes later, the 49ers enjoyed a six-point lead, 64-58, thanks to Kevin Cordano's 3-pointer.
But with 2:49 to go, Yuba's hopes were dealt a serious blow when Rutledge developed a severe leg cramp and had to leave the game. While Rutledge did not score in the second half, he contributed in other ways. He had four assists and three rebounds in the second half before he exited the game.
West Valley, meanwhile, rallied to grab a 65-64 lead off Greg Russell's 3-pointer and a drive in the lane. Russell, who finished with 26 points to lead the Vikings, scored his team's last 11 points.
While all West Valley had was Russell down the stretch, Yuba went to several players. Royal Edwards scored from underneath the basket off a pass from Kyle Rische with one minute remaining to put Yuba back on top, 66-65.
With 30 seconds to go, Russell drove the lane for two points and a 67-66 Viking lead. It was then left up to Garner to hit the winning shot.
As the final buzzer sounded, fans poured out of the stands and onto the court to celebrate with the 49ers. The stands on both sides of the gym were full for the game.
“That was an unbelievable crowd,” Cornelius said. “I think that was the best JC crowd I've ever seen. They were absolutely awesome.”
Garner, who led four 49ers in double figures with 21 points, also noticed the fan support. “I really thank all the fans for coming,” he said. “They were great.”
After being bottled up in the first half, Young came on strong in the second half and finished with 16 points.
“I just managed to get loose a couple of times and starting hitting my shot,” he said.
Edwards scored 14 and Rutledge had 10.
Young finished with a double-double as he had 11 rebounds.
Yuba's three sophomores who are moving on to Div. l programs next year - Garner, Young and Rutledge - all said before the season began that the 49ers would go all the way and win a state title.
“This is just one more step on the road to winning state,” Garner said.
“Now we just have to finish the job,” Young added.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Richard Myers can be reached at 749-4714. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.