Benefield: Santa Rosa Junior College men's basketball team seeks another playoff upset

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ELITE EIGHT

Who: Santa Rosa vs. Fullerton

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

How to watch: YouTube: SoCalCollegeSports1

Skylar Chavez averages 28 points and seven rebounds a game, but it wasn’t his soft shooting touch that anyone will likely remember about his contribution to Santa Rosa Junior College’s playoff win over Gavilan last Saturday.

It was the charge he took in the closing seconds, drawing an offensive foul and getting the ball back for the Bear Cubs with one second on the clock.

An entire season hung in the balance on that call — a charge gives the Bear Cubs the win, a blocking call gives a resurgent Gavilan squad new life.

But Bear Cubs coach Craig McMillan said he didn’t have any doubt — Chavez got to the spot and got the call.

“In my opinion, it wasn’t even close,” he said.

That said, he had to be a mite relieved when he saw the referee put his hand on the back of his head and point toward the Bear Cubs’ basket.

“That pretty much ended the game,” he said. Bear Cubs 68, Gavilan 66.

The win booked the Bear Cubs’ ticket to the Elite Eight in Ventura. Santa Rosa, seeded No. 6 in the NorCal Regional, faces the No. 1 seed from the SoCal Regional bracket, the Fullerton Community College Hornets, on Thursday night.

And this game is expected to look nothing like the first two playoff games in which the Bear Cubs triumphed — first over Las Positas 88-75 and then over Gavilan. Fullerton, 27-3 overall and went 10-2 in the Orange Empire Conference, is an entirely different kettle of fish.

For one, the Hornets aren’t as get up and go as Las Positas or Gavilan.

“When they get in the half court, they pound it inside,” McMillan said.

And when they pound, sophomore center Ronne Readus is Fullerton’s hammer.

Readus is 6 feet, 9 inches and weighs 250 pounds. And those aren’t his best numbers. He averages nearly 13 points per game to go with his nearly 12 rebounds. He also blocks 1.5 shots per game.

In the Hornets’ 68-59 second-round win over Allan Hancock College, Readus had 16 points and 19 rebounds.

“Landon (Courtman) and Jayson (McMillan) will have to do a good job guarding him,” McMillan said of his two big men.

But both Courtman, at 6 feet, 7 inches and McMillan, at 6 feet, 6 inches, give up some height to Readus. And both give up bulk.

On top of that, as good as Readus looks on paper, McMillan said he might not even be the Hornets’ most potent weapon. That title likely belongs to Lance Coleman II. Coleman is averaging 19 points and seven rebounds per game.

“He’s one of the best players in the state,” McMillan said. “They are a very good three-point-shooting team.”

In the Hornets’ 67-64 win over Southwestern on Saturday, the Hornets were 7 of 11 from behind the arc in the first half. Coleman was relatively quiet with eight points. But that seemed to invigorate the rest of the squad. The Hornets got 13 points from Readus, 13 points in 28 minutes from reserve Dylan Banks, 10 points from Rodrick McCobb and a game-high 15 points from Omajae Smith.

ELITE EIGHT

Who: Santa Rosa vs. Fullerton

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

How to watch: YouTube: SoCalCollegeSports1

“They don’t have any non-shooters,” McMillan said. What they have, he said, are guys who perhaps shoot less well than a teammate, but everyone on the floor can be dangerous.

But the same can be said for the Bear Cubs.

Chavez, who prepped at Drake High, is consistently putting up huge numbers, but sophomore Ryan Perez, a Petaluma High grad, has put together a 43-point performance this season. And against Las Positas, the Bear Cubs got big numbers out of a slew of guys.

Atmar Mundu, a freshman out of Fremont High, scored 20 points, pulled down six rebounds and had four assists and two steals. Damian Wallace, a freshman from Cardinal Newman, had 18 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals. Perez added 13 points and three steals.

And McMillan likes the athleticism of his group in the face of a stout Fullerton lineup. The Hornets may have trouble with the Bear Cubs’ quickness.

“There are matchup issues for them, too,” he said. “We can spread the floor, set some screens, make some shots. There are going to be matchup issues both ways.”

By the time the ball is tipped Thursday night, the Bear Cubs will have five days of studying the Hornets under their belt. And that’s an evolution that has pleased McMillan with this group. Their game prep and game-day execution have been strong of late.

“I was really happy with the two playoff games, our game-plan execution,” he said. “I think they have gotten better with that.”

The timing couldn’t be better. Should the Bear Cubs prevail against Fullerton, they will have about 48 hours to prep for a semifinal game Saturday night. The final is Sunday.

The Bear Cubs will have to be quick studies indeed.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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