Rancho Santiago College survived a series of mistakes in the final 30 seconds to defeat Saddleback, 49-47, and win the Orange Empire Conference men's basketball title at Rancho Santiago Saturday night.
Saddleback had a chance to tie with one second left but freshman forward Vincent Smalls missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
But the fact that Saddleback still had a chance in the final seconds was amazing in itself.
Simon Thomas scored on a 10-foot jumper with 1:47 left to put the Dons up, 49-45, but Saddleback scored with 1:16 left on a dunk by Smalls.
After each team turned the ball over on its next possession, the Dons had the ball with 55 seconds left. But as Rancho Santiago (9-1, 25-4) was trying to run the 45-second clock down, Chris Jackson's pass to Chris Jefferson went off Jefferson's hands and out of bounds with 30 seconds left.
The Gauchos then worked the clock to 10 seconds, only to have Renny Ingram miss a three-point attempt. But Saddleback had another chance when three Dons were unable to get the rebound and Saddleback's Mike Minier picked up the free ball.
Minier then missed a three-point attempt, but Rancho Santiago was unable to get the rebound again. Smalls got the rebound and as he moved across the center of the lane was fouled with one second left before missing the first free throw.
It is the Dons' first title since winning the South Coast Conference in 1982. Rancho Santiago, which is the top-ranked team in Southern California, will get a first-round bye in the state playoffs, which start next Saturday. Saddleback (7-3, 22-7), which was led by Scott Dwinell's career-high 15 points, finished second in the conference and, along with Cypress, gained an automatic berth in the state playoffs.
Thomas scored 16 for Rancho Santiago and teammate Howard Cole 14.
In the South Coast Conference:
Compton 70, Golden West 61--Bart Smith scored 18 points, Anthony Howard 17 and Jim Stewart 13, but the Rustlers (0-14, 4-23) lost their 14th consecutive game. Andre Wiley scored 23 for Compton (11-3).
Cerritos 72, Fullerton 71--Damon Andrews made two free throws with 12 seconds left to give the Falcons a 72-69 lead. The Hornets then missed a three-point shot but Troy Joseph scored on the rebound as time ran out.
Cerritos and El Camino tied for first in the conference.