Sonoma State men picked for NCAA division II tournament

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After the final buzzer sounded in Friday’s CCAA semifinal game, Sonoma State men’s basketball players walked to the locker room as the losing team for only the eighth time this season.

After the Seawolves’ 63-56 loss to San Francisco State at CSU San Marcos, all the joy of a long, hard, successful season faded away with the harsh reality that this could be the last time this group walked off the floor together as a team.

That disappointment was erased on Sunday when the NCAA Division II selection committee took notice of Sonoma State’s impressive 20-8 record and awarded the team a spot in the national tournament for the first time in 11 seasons.

The Seawolves are seeded seventh in the west region and will begin tournament play Friday at La Jolla against PacWest Conference tournament champion Hawaii Pacific (28-2).

“It was a celebration,” All-CCAA guard Jackson Gion said of the scene when Sonoma State’s name popped up on the NCAA bracket. “It was the complete opposite feeling of walking off the court against San Francisco State. It feels like we have a second life.”

Gion said the toughest part about the selection show process was the wait. The show was originally scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m, but was pushed back a half hour. Then Sonoma State’s region — the west — was announced last.

Gion said he was guessing that if they got in, they would “sneak in” as the eighth seed.

CCAA champion UC San Diego was announced as the No. 1 seed and when the No. 8 seed flashed across the screen — Dixie State — Gion said he started to worry and “honestly felt a little deflated” that the Seawolves hadn’t been selected.

But the last team called during the show was Sonoma State. Gion said the celebration began immediately in the room where players were watching. Head coach Pat Fuscaldo described the announcement as “a moment of pure elation” for the team.

It was quite the relief for Gion and his teammates, said Fuscaldo, because most of the team felt like “they didn’t play anywhere close to their best game” in the loss Friday.

“SF State has just had their number this season,” he said, adding that the team is happy they get to face someone out of their own conference.

Gion’s backcourt partner, senior Khalid Johnson, said the wait during the selection show was “the most nervous moment of his life” and when the announcement finally came, it was “just a giant feeling of relief.”

Fuscaldo credits the team’s toughness and resiliency for making it this far.

“With everything we’ve gone through, to make it this far and to watch this team grow has been inspiring,” he said.

Fuscaldo called being selected for the national tournament one of the most emotional and satisfactory moments of his career.

Gion said the celebrating is now over and players have their sights focused on No. 2 seed Hawaii Pacific and the Sharks’ high-powered offense that scores more than 87 points per game.

Hawaii Pacific, ranked No. 6 nationally, is led by Chauncey Orr’s 19-point average. Orr, a guard/forward from Bowling Green, Ohio, shoots 46 percent from 3-point range.

Hawaii Pacific’s offense will be test by Sonoma State’s defense, which is ranked first in the nation with a 57 points-against average.

Fuscaldo said the Seawolves will have to slow Hawaii Pacific on offense and limit the Sharks’ shots.

“As long as we play our game, we will be fine,” Fuscaldo said.

The Seawolves will head to Southern California today. Tipoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

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