Rarely has a co-championship seemed as empty as it did Friday for Saddleback.
The Gauchos, playing at home, had a one-game lead over Riverside and already owned half of the Orange Empire Conference men's basketball title.
But Riverside won a physical contest, 105-100, to earn the other half of the conference title. Saddleback, ranked fifth in the State, ends the regular season 25-5, 12-2 and Riverside, No. 6 in the state, is 28-4, 12-2.
Riverside gets the better seeding in the Southern California playoffs because the Tigers swept third-place Rancho Santiago. Saddleback split with the Dons.
"I thought our guys played really well," Saddleback Coach Bill Brummel said. "They just made more good plays than us. Our guys are really disappointed right now. But we've both accomplished the same thing."
Riverside led at the half, 52-46, and upped the advantage to as many as eight (91-83) in the second half.
Ronald Kenan's free throw with 1 minute 23 seconds left put the Tigers up, 101-97. Micah Kroeger made a three-pointer from about 23 feet to get Saddleback with one, 101-100, with 30 seconds left. Sean White made two free throws with 21 seconds left for Riverside.
After a Riverside timeout, Saddleback worked the ball around until Anthony Carter found a slight opening in the right corner. But his three-pointer bounced off the rim and White got the rebound. He was fouled and made both free throws with one second left.
"We just wanted to win back-to-back championships," Riverside Coach Bob Schermerhorn said. "That was as hard a played game as I've ever seen."
The tone for the game was set in the first minute when Riverside's Rick Hite and Carter were involved in a verbal altercation. Carter, who scored 43 points when Saddleback beat Riverside, 84-72, seemed to be a target from the start.
It came to a head when Carter went across the middle of the key and was turned and thrown to the ground by Riverside's Paul Culbertson with 11:50 left. Culbertson was called for a foul and Saddleback's Frank Allen was given a technical for his efforts to defend Carter.
"(Saddleback) is a very aggressive team and they're not going to back down to anybody," Schermerhorn. "Our kids are not going to back down to anybody either."
Kenan scored a game-high 35 and White added 30 for Riverside. Eric Ambrozich had 24 and Carter and Kroeger added 19 each. Frank Allen had 18 and nine assists for the Gauchos before fouling out with 1:23 to play.
In other men's games:
Irvine Valley 91, Golden West 66--Josh Porter and Keon Clark each scored 19 points for Irvine Valley (21-11, 9-5). Porter scored all of his points in the second half. Clark also had 19 rebounds and blocked four shots. For Golden West (8-22, 2-12), Dejuan Matthews and Rod Scheuerman each scored 14 points.
Rancho Santiago 76, Orange Coast 55--Nick Holt scored 24 points and Jimmy Harris had 12 points for Rancho Santiago (22-8, 10-4).
Damion Morbley led Orange Coast (12-18, 4-10) with 23 points.
Cypress 78, Fullerton 74--Matt Kenney scored 22 points, including six three-pointers, and Gil Gonzales added 17 points for visiting Cypress (16-17, 3-11). Jason Cunningham led Fullerton (13-18, 4-10) with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
In Orange Empire Conference women's basketball:
Cypress 52, Fullerton 46--Jody Caruso scored 19 points for Cypress (21-11, 7-5), which moved into a second-place tie with Saddleback. Fullerton's Nicole deBruijn was the high scorer with 21 points.
Riverside 78, Saddleback 68--Host Riverside (12-14, 6-6) used a 14-2 run to start the second half to take a 42-37 lead and never trailed again. Saddleback is 16-10, 7-4.
Orange Coast 96, Rancho Santiago 48--America Robledo had 16 points and eight assists for Orange Coast (20-12, 6-6). Jamie Shine added 20 points and 19 rebounds. Rancho Santiago ends 9-17, 1-11.
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Orange Empire Conference
MEN Conf. Overall College W L W L Riverside 12 2 28 4 Saddleback 12 2 25 5 Rancho Santiago 10 4 22 8 Irvine Valley 9 5 21 11 Fullerton 4 10 13 18 Orange Coast 4 10 12 18 Cypress 3 11 16 17 Golden West 2 12 8 22
WOMEN Conf. Overall College W L W L Golden West 12 0 26 5 Saddleback 7 5 16 10 Cypress 7 5 21 11 Riverside 6 6 12 14 Orange Coast 6 6 20 12 Fullerton 3 9 13 18 Rancho Santiago 1 11 9 17