As the 49ers played round one of the Bay Valley Conference Championship Tournament this Wednesday against the Merritt College Thunderbirds, tension was high all through the game. The tension was more than Yuba’s recent home basketball games, as this game required constant energy and focus. But that was to be expected. Sophmore Wing, Mike McChristian says, “We knew we were going to get a challenge from them.”
The game got off to a rocky start, as Merritt pulled out to an early four point lead. But the Yuba men moved quickly to fill the gap, starting with a field goal from Antu Olah. Back down the court after a failed layup attempt by the guests, Julian Welch scored a two point basket.
With just under 15 minutes left in the first half, Merritt had a spectacular play that ended with a missed shot. Yuba took the rebound, and Olah brought it down the court for a dunk, putting the score at 12 to 7 with Yuba in the lead.
Fouls were called often throughout the game. Jhonte Simpson believes this is part of the reason Yuba was able to do so well. “The referees wouldn’t let us play as physically as [Merritt] could have.” Not all the fouls were called on Merritt, though. A controversial foul was called on Welch in the middle of the first half, despite a similar move from one of Merritt’s players not being called just seconds before. All of this fouling caused Spencer Butterfield to lead the team in points, with 26. Thirteen of them were from free throw shots.
Yuba gained an 8 point lead late in the first half, so the Thunderbirds responded with back to back field goals from Ransom. Yuba countered with a layup from Welch, but it wasn’t enough. Soon the game was tied at 26 to 26. It was head to head for the rest of the first half.
The 49ers came into the second half with a two point lead, and a refreshed Olah quickly increased the difference. He started by tipping in a shot by Welch, and went on to make a 3 pointer and and then a layup for another 2, giving him the first 7 points of the second half.
Later in the half, the Merritt boys had an accidental bout of kickball, and nearly took out a referee. Everyone had a good laugh, and the game continued.
Defense from both teams weakened in the final half. Olah made an undefended 3, and a pass to an unguarded Hariter led to a field goal for Merritt. The game was slowing down, threatening to get dull, when Olah shot another three pointer. A timeout was called, and back in the game, Olah attempted another 3, which hit nothing but air.
Merritt’s Ransom missed a three point shot not long after. A two point field goal from Robinson kept them from lagging too far behind, though.
In the key on Yuba’s side, four shots were attempted in one play, ending with success from Butterfield, giving them a five point lead. The Thunderbirds countered with a two point shot from Robinson, but the 49ers kept their lead. McChristian had a field goal, followed by a 3 from Butterfield.
Butterfield kept it up. When fouled later on, he made three of three free throws. Overall in the game, he had 13 successful of his 15 attempted.
With two minutes left in the game, the score was 80-65. Merritt pushed hard in the closing minutes, but couldn’t recover, giving Yuba the win, 86-77.
The game was not an easy win, but as head coach Doug Cornelius points out, “We needed this. We needed a tough game to prepare us for the playoffs. It was a test, and Friday will be an even bigger test.”
Yuba will play in the finals of the BVC Conference Tournament at home on Friday, February 18th, at 7pm. Opponent is TBA.