Times Standard (Eureka)
Redwoods falls to Sequoias
The College of the Redwoods men's basketball team had already accomplished most of their preseason goals before their playoff matchup with College of the Sequoias on Saturday.
They won the Golden Valley Conference title, becoming just the second team in league history to win three straight. They were undefeated at home. They set a school record for wins in a season with 26. By the time they were in the regional finals of the playoffs, the Corsairs were playing with house money.
Outmatched and on the road in one of the toughest environments in junior college basketball, the Corsairs again achieved many of their goals as they tried to pull of the improbable victory. They muddied up the pace to slow down the speed and athleticism of Sequoias. They played tremendous defense to keep things close down the stretch.
But ultimately, the challenge posed by Sequoias proved to be too much. The Corsairs lost 58-49 to the Giants on Saturday in Visalia.
“This was a valiant effort by our guys,” said Redwoods coach Ryan Bisio. “We took a great team to the brink and were just a few plays from getting over the hump.”
The Corsairs appeared to be rattled a bit offensively in the opening minutes of the game as they tried to find good looks against the astoundingly athletic starting five of the Giants. But Redwoods was unshaken on the defensive end. The first basket wasn't scored until nearly three minutes into the game. Coach Bisio then called a timeout to reorganize his team and the Corsairs responded as Treyson Neff hit back-toback 3-pointers. That resilience spurred a back-andforth battle, but Redwoods led 15-12 midway through the first half.
Redwoods continued to struggle against offensively against the immense length and speed of the Sequoias defense, but they also battled on both sides of the ball to keep things close. As the two teams continued to trade baskets down the stretch, it was the Corsairs who got the final bucket of the half as they held a 23-22 lead at halftime.
It was more of the same in the second half as the Corsairs continued to maintain a narrow edge over the Giants. Redwoods held a 30-29 lead after the first five minutes of the second half, but Sequoias turned up the ball pressure and forced two turnovers off sloppy passes to fuel a 7-0 run to take the lead. In a tight game with a narrow margin of error, those mistakes proved to be costly.
“We had about a three minute stretch in the second half where we turned it over,” said Bisio. “It's probably what sealed our fate.”
The Corsairs continued to battle, shrinking the deficit to just five points multiple times. But Redwoods couldn't capitalize on those opportunities with the big shot to make it a one possession game down the stretch. With those missed chances, the game slipped away from the Corsairs down the stretch.
Redwoods had their last gasp in the final two minutes as they cut the Sequoias lead to seven points and tried to turn up the pressure to force a turnover. The Corsairs tightened up their defense, but allowed an offensive rebound with a minute to go while trailing 53-46. From there, the deficit was too much to overcome.
Considering the final stat sheet, it was remarkable that the underdog Corsairs were able to keep things as close as they did. They shot only 30.6% from the field for the game. They were also on the losing end of a substantial free throw disparity as Sequoias as 15-for-22 at the line compared to 2-for-7 for Redwoods. The Corsairs made up for it by dominating the glass and playing stout defense, but they also turned the ball far too much. Redwoods gave the ball away 18 times and the Giants capitalized with 22 points off turnovers.
Individually, conference MVP Treyson Neff was the only beacon of offense for Redwoods as he finished with a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds. But it was star forward Jon Nchekwube who really fueled the Corsairs' dominance on the glass. Nchekwube also had a double-double with 11 points and an astonishing 25 rebounds. Of course, the unfortunate other side of those numbers is that the remaining Corsairs only had 13 points while shooting 6-for-31 on their attempts.
“On the road, in a game of this size, 40 minutes is what's required,” said Bisio. “We were so close.”
Still, Redwoods played with the grit and grime necessary to pull of the upset of an elite team. But they simply made a few mistakes that they couldn't afford against an elite program.
The Corsairs will likely go down in history as the best team in school history. It's a feat the players can take pride in for years to come. But they've also raised the bar and seen what's necessary to win at an elite level, and Redwoods will have to embrace that challenge to take the next step in the future.
“I'll be forever grateful to coach this team,” said Bisio. “Not only are they the most impressive team in school history, but they grew as people to a degree I've never witnessed before.”