Given the Rancho Santiago College basketball team’s propensity toward injury or illness this season, one would figure the Dons to be at the bottom of the Orange Empire Conference standings.
But with determination and a few bandages, the players have been able to hang together to remain only a game behind conference-leading Riverside.
Rancho Santiago (15-8 overall, 5-2 in conference), with 4 consecutive victories, plays host to Cypress Wednesday while Saddleback is at Riverside. The Dons travel to Riverside Saturday.
Troubles began for Rancho Santiago with the start of the season, when freshman center Corie Blount suffered an ankle injury and decided to redshirt.
Just about the time conference play began in early January, forward Mike Hunter came down with the flu and missed a game. Starting center Matt Lien and reserve guard Tommy Villanueva were also slowed by the flu the past 2 weeks.
Starter Tony Smalley missed 2 games with a groin injury. Smalley, a sophomore forward, has played in a reserve role in the last 2 games.
Another starter, freshman guard Craig Rice, hurt his ankle and has missed the last 2 games. And sophomore guard Chris Martin injured his wrist during practice, but is playing with it wrapped.
“Someone asked me if we would be better once everyone was healthy,” Rancho Santiago Coach Dana Pagett said. “If that happens, then I will have a problem of not knowing who to play. Actually, this might be better for us. We have so many players that are even that it really helped push the freshmen into playing.”
One of the freshmen who have emerged during this difficult time is guard Alvin Loftis, who scored a career-high 22 points as Rancho Santiago defeated Fullerton, 69-59, Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of guys out,” Loftis said. “It gave me my chance to start and things have worked out pretty well since then.”
Ready for spring sports? Well, wait no longer. The baseball season starts Friday. Cypress and Orange Coast, the early picks to contend for the Orange Empire Conference title, both begin play in the College of the Desert tournament.
The teams shared the tournament title last season and OCC won it the year before.
“I’m ready to get started,” Cypress Coach Scott Pickler said. “It will be nice to start playing games that mean something.”
Cypress opens with Chaffey at Angel Stadium in Palm Springs at 2:30 p.m., and OCC plays at host College of the Desert at 7 p.m.
Rancho Santiago, runner-up in the state to Sacramento City last season, opens Friday at San Diego Southwestern at 2 p.m. Saddleback is at Rio Hondo Friday at 2 p.m.
Saturday, Fullerton plays host to Los Angeles Valley at noon, and Golden West is at San Diego Southwestern at 1 p.m.
Community College Notes
Sophomore point guard Elbert Davis of Golden West is leading the state with 8.6 assists per game and already has set a Golden West career record with 411 assists. Davis, from Santiago High School, set the Golden West single-season assist record with 195 last season and has 216 so far this season. Davis’ teammate, sophomore Markus Muller-Stach of Corona del Mar High, has scored 1,140 points in his career and is in third place on the Golden West all-time list. He needs 18 points to tie second-place Truiett Hatton (1978-79 and 1981-82). Chris Thompson (1969-71) heads the list with 1,441 points. . . . Ian Donnelly, a freshman forward at Cypress, injured his knee last week and no time is set for his return. Donnelly, who started 7 games, averaged 7.7 points and 4.2 rebounds. He was 38 of 40 from the free-throw line. . . . With 5 games remaining, Mike Varos has tied the Cypress single season and career records with 56 3-pointers. Varos has equaled the mark set by Andy Olivarez, now playing at USC, during the 1986-87 season. . . . Visiting teams continue to hold the advantage in Orange Empire Conference men’s basketball games. The visitors are 14-10 through the first 24 games.