SRJC men fall just short, 71-68, as playoff run ends

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It was almost another upset win for the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball team — but instead, the Bear Cubs came up short in the final seconds to fall 71-68 to Southern California’s top-seeded Fullerton College Thursday night in Ventura.

After upsetting Gavilan College 68-66 Saturday night in the Northern California regional final to reach the “Elite Eight” quarterfinal round of the state tournament, Santa Rosa faced an even tougher opponent Thursday in a Fullerton team that is the No.1 seed in the Southern California bracket.

The Hornets’ 3-point shooting gave them the lead in the final minutes of the game, and SRJC’s Skylar Chavez — the state’s leading scorer, averaging nearly 28 points per game — missed an attempt at a tying 3-pointer to ultimately end the Bear Cubs’ playoff run.

“We knew we had to do a lot of things right and played pretty well for most of the time,” Bear Cubs coach Craig McMillan said. “We had a couple mistakes and missed shots and missed free throws and defensive assignments down the stretch that cost us.”

Four teams from Northern California and four teams from Southern California emerged from their regional brackets to form this weekend’s California Community College Athletic Association’s championship tournament.

The Bear Cubs (23-8 overall, 12-4 Big 8) entered the quarterfinal round as the No. 4 seed in Northern California.

Santa Rosa came out hot to start the game, moved the ball well to find some good shots and went a 9-3 run to take an early lead. But Fullerton’s 3-point shooting kept the Hornets in the game, and just over eight minutes into the first half, the score was tied at 16-16.

Both teams stepped up their defense in the final minutes of the first, but the Hornets hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to take a 37-31 lead going into halftime.

The Bear Cubs picked up their offense to start the second half and Chavez, who scored 10 points early in the game but had since gone cold, made two baskets to shorten Fullerton’s lead to 44-43 with 14 minutes left in regulation.

The two teams started to trade baskets down the stretch and with eight minutes left, the Bear Cubs led 58-56.

Chavez got hot and continued to score despite the Hornets’ heavy defense. Two minutes later, he made a 3-pointer that was followed by Ryan Perez’ third steal of the game — which he converted into an easy layup to give the Bear Cubs a 63-56 lead.

“(Perez) played good D — he made shots, he made plays and had a good game. Our whole team played well; we just didn’t have a lot of margin for error against a team of that caliber,” McMillan said.

With just under three minutes remaining, Chavez completed a 3-point play to put Santa Rosa up by seven — but the Hornets’ 3-point shooting helped them go on a quick 8-0 run and take back the lead, up 67-66 with a minute and a half to go.

Chavez hit two free throws followed by a clutch block to give the Bear Cubs back the lead at 68-67, but the Hornets hit a couple of free throws of their own to go back up by one.

With seconds dwindling, Chavez fought through a trap to find a good mid-range look but could not convert.

Fullerton, 28-3 overall and 10-2 in the Orange Empire conference, moves on to face Fresno City College on Saturday.

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