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By Ashley Grogan
Sports Writer 

Lassen Cougars named Mendocino Tournament Champions


November 29, 2016  | View PDF

On Thursday, Nov. 17, the Lassen College men’s basketball team traveled to the pre-conference Mendocino Tournament in Ukiah, California. Clearly Ukiah was not ready for the mighty Cougar roar as Lassen left the tournament as the champions.

During the tournament, Lassen faced Modesto Junior College, Skyline College and Las Positas College.

The first team awaiting the Cougars was the MJC Pirates on Thursday.

Modesto hardly stood a chance against the Cougars as Danny Spinuzza kicked off the game with a 17-7 lead for Lassen.

The first half was called with Lassen in the lead 43-30.

Coach Will Freedman said, “Our defense was great, forcing Modesto into taking some bad shots which led to offensive chances for us. We pulled away toward the end of the first half due to great on-ball defense.”

The Cougars continued to keep the Pirates on their toes as the second half started with a great sense of teamwork among the Lassen crew.

The game ended with a final score of 78-60 in Cougar favor. Lassen defense was the true highlight of the game as their focus and plays kept Modesto from establishing a solid rhythm.

The second round of games pitted Lassen against the Skyline Trojans on Friday, Nov. 18.

Skyline posed a decent threat against the Cougars, but threat wasn’t enough to keep the win out of Lassen’s paws.

The first half wasn’t looking good for the Trojans as Lassen was leading by seven points.

A 33-26 lead wasn’t enough for Freedman, however, so the halftime pep talk was focused on improving rather than maintaining.

Throughout the first half, Lassen’s shots weren’t as flawless as in other games. However, the defensive plays and strategies made up for the shooting woes throughout the team.

The Cougars really pulled through for the second half, however, and left the court with a 77-57 win.

Freedman said, “We dialed up the pressure in the second half which caused Skyline to implode.”

The various methods put into play during the second half of the game granted the Cougars a solid 20-point lead, thus earning them a spot in the championship game.

The final game of the tournament was between the Cougars and the Las Positas Hawks on Saturday, Nov. 19.

Freedman commented, “We came out firing on all cylinders against LPC.”

Las Positas has earned the reputation of number one team in Northern California throughout the years, but according to Freedman, the Lassen College Cougars showed no fear in their game against the Hawks.

The game started with a fire in the Cougars’ eyes. Shots by Spinuzza and Kenny Macklin sent the crowd wild.

Freedman commented that Macklin had started the game by making his first nine shots, four of which were three-pointers.

The first half was a roller coaster for Cougar fans, however.

Lassen had jumped into an early 10-point lead by forcing the ball in transition. Lassen had also continually attempted to clog the middle defensively so LPC would be unable to use their height to their advantage.

However, as the half continued, the Hawks established a rhythm and with their momentum, they ended the first half with 57 points to compare to the Cougars’ 51.

Freedman said, “We came out in the second half on fire again, tying the game.”

Once the Hawks and Cougars were on equal playing ground, the teams struggled to establish a lead as the points climbed for each side.

Unwana Ekiko was the Cougar to break the monotonous score climb as he shot a three-pointer with five minutes left of the game.

Ekiko gave Lassen an 88-85 lead and the boost it needed to finish the game once and for all.

Two minutes shone on the board along with a score of 94-88, Lassen. The final results were still questionable.

Finally, Spinuzza proved that he had had enough of the lollygagging. He hit another three-pointer from the corner of the court and sent the Hawks back to the nest with a final score of 97-88 for Lassen.

From his performance throughout the tournament as a whole, Spinuzza was named Tournament MVP, an honor he clearly deserved.

Additionally, Bruno Castillo and Macklin were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Lassen was clearly well-represented in Ukiah.

Freedman commented, “Words cannot describe how proud I am of this group. It has been such a joy to watch these young men grow into a real team.

“Our recent success is a direct result of them buying into the team concept and not caring about who is getting the credit. If we can continue down this path and not feel too good about ourselves, then this type of success will become normal.

“We may have surprised a lot of people around the state, but the people who have been around the program the past six months knew that this was a possibility.”

The tournament champions have returned to the den and are preparing for their next opportunity to make the community proud.

The Cougars will be traveling to Aptos, California during the first weekend in December to participate in the Cabrillo Classic.

The first home conference game will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6.


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