The Saddleback College men's basketball team started the season as Southern California's fourth-ranked team.
But these days, Saddleback is just fighting to stay in the Orange Empire Conference race.
Saddleback (16-8, 4-2), is in third place, trailing Cypress (24-5, 6-0) by two games and Rancho Santiago (20-6, 5-1) by one with four games left.
Saddleback opened the season with a 6-6 record because of inconsistent play and injuries.
Saddleback recovered for eight-straight victories, including the first three games in the Orange Empire Conference. But then Saddleback had to play the conference's best teams, Cypress and Rancho Santiago.
Cypress scored a 54-38 victory Jan. 27 and three days later Rancho Santiago defeated Saddleback, 70-61. Saddleback really wasn't in either game in the second half.
Guard Joe Hudson's sprained lower back became worse and he could only play a limited role in both losses. Hudson was the team's second-leading scorer at 11.7 points a game, but hasn't been able to practice in three weeks.
Saddleback barely avoid its third consecutive loss last Saturday as the Gauchos need three overtimes to defeat Citrus, 68-63.
Citrus is 5-19 overall and 0-6 in conference.
Hudson sat out the Citrus game and Renny Ingram, the other guard, didn't start because of the flu. Ingram played only a few minutes in the first half, but scored all eight of his and his team's points in the third overtime.
"It seems like we have just lacked continuity all season," said Bill Brummel, Saddleback coach. "I can't remember a week where we have had everyone at each practice."
Saddleback also was without Vincent Smalls, who leads the team in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (8.7). But Smalls missed a week earlier this season in November because of sore back.
Smalls started the season on the wing but is playing more under the basket to help the offense since Hudson's injury. Smalls scored a career-high 30 points in the victory over Citrus.
Saddleback plays host to Riverside Wednesday and is at Orange Coast Saturday. Saddleback plays host to Cypress Feb. 17 and Rancho Santiago Feb. 20 in the final week of the conference season.
"Riverside is our most important game right now," Brummel said. "If we can scare up a victory then we go from there. But all we are trying to do is set the table for the final week to make the games with Cypress and Rancho Santiago mean something."
Streaks. The Golden West women's basketball team has 25-straight victories this season but is still far from the college's single-season record. The 1978-79 team was 30-0 and won the Southern California championship. There was no state title then.
Golden West won the first 15 games the next season to make the record 45 games over two seasons.
The Cypress men's team defeated Orange Coast, 40-34, for its ninth-consecutive victory, the longest current men's streak. Cypress opened the season with eight consecutive victories before losing to the Edwards Air Force team in the championship of the Antelope Valley tournament.
Cypress travels to Citrus Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., then to Rancho Santiago Saturday in a game that should be for first place in the Orange Empire Conference. Rancho Santiago plays host to Orange Coast (15-13, 2-4) Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Hal Sherbeck, Fullerton football coach, announced that 13 members of his team have signed to play at four-year colleges next season.
Andrew Greer, an all-South Coast Conference running back, is going to Ohio University.
Also signing were: defensive backs Reggie Meredith (Fresno State), Tom Bennett (Montana) and Steve Skrabak (Utah); defensive ends Pat James (Arizona) and Scott Britt (Cincinnati); linebacker Kendrick Young (Fresno State); defensive tackle Mike Ramil (Alabama); offensive linemen Kirk Steenburgen (Youngstown State), Charles Thomas (Central Michigan) and Brian Foot (Northern Arizona); tight end Robert Welch (Las Vegas), and wide receiver Lorenzo Glenn (Montana).
Community College Notes
Paul Boucher, Cypress catcher, was hit in the shoulder with a foul ball Saturday in Cypress' 7-5 loss to Orange Coast and suffered a separated shoulder. He is expected to be out four weeks. Cypress' Jeff Patterson was hit on the chin with a bad-hop ground ball in the same game, but was able to pitch Sunday. Patterson, who packed his mouth with cotton and gauze so his teeth would not grind, pitched eight innings as Cypress defeated Chaffey, 12-5.