Saddleback, a team that has seldom played to its potential this season, did so Friday in a 73-59 victory over Long Beach in a championship semifinal game of the Rancho Santiago holiday tournament.
Long Beach (15-5) came into the game top-ranked in Southern California. Saddleback (6-7) was unranked.
Saddleback, one of the preseason picks to win the Orange Empire Conference, has struggled to find the right combination most of the season, according to Coach Bill Brummel.
But Saddleback played well in the first half Friday and led, 39-31. Long Beach rallied and trailed, 57-56, with 4 minutes 19 seconds left. The Gauchos then went on an 11-0 run to put the game away. Josh Borella, who scored 16 points, had 10 in the final two minutes for Saddleback.
Ray Ankton scored a game-high 21 for Saddleback, Jody Smith had 13 and a team-high eight rebounds and Dee Boyer scored 11 points and had seven rebounds.
Saddleback advances to the title game against Rancho Santiago at 7 tonight. It is the first time since 1987 that Saddleback has been in the title game of the tournament.
In another Rancho Santiago tournament game:
Rancho Santiago 61, Los Angeles City 60--Beau Hossler made two free throws with 15 seconds left to give Rancho Santiago (12-5) a 61-60 lead. L.A. City missed two shots in the final eight seconds.
Hossler finished with 12 points for Rancho Santiago, which trailed at the break, 27-21. Ruben Oronoz scored 15 points, all in the second half, to help the Dons rally. Oronoz also had a team-high nine rebounds.
It is the eighth time in the 15-year history of the tournament that Rancho Santiago has advanced to the title game, and the third consecutive year. The Dons have won the title three times (1984, '86, '90).
In the Alan Hancock tournament:
Santa Barbara 82, Golden West 79--Paig Parish scored 27 points, including six three-pointers, but Golden West (7-10) lost in the first round.
Greg Evans added 16 for Golden West, which played without starting forward Bret Lundeen, who was ill. Mark Johnson had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds for Golden West.