ANGWIN — The Pacific Union College men’s basketball team held on for their first California Pacific Conference victory of the season Saturday night, escaping with a 93-91 victory over visiting La Sierra University.
“Tonight is bittersweet,” Pacific Union College coach Greg Rahn said. “It is great we got the win, but tonight we didn’t win in the fashion we wanted to.”
The Pioneers (3-8 overall, 1-2 CalPac) dominated early, jumping on top thanks to a 17-4 run to start the contest. It was Jayson Marquez leading the way early on, drilling three quick shots from beyond the arc.
The hosts ballooned their lead to 27-9 while also forcing the Golden Eagles’ star player, Reynaldo Solorzano, to the bench with two early fouls.
Marquez, a Napa Valley College transfer, scored a game-high 25 points on 8 of 14 shooting for the Pioneers. Pacific Union took advantage of Solorzano’s absence, with Jeremiah Blandin taking control of the post area. The Long Beach native scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half alone, and finished the game with 17 in both categories.
“We wanted to put it on them early and we went through stuff at practice yesterday, talking about getting downhill and getting proper spacing on the floor,” Rahn said. “I thought we did a fantastic job in the whole first half and things were coming easy for us.”
The senior-heavy Pioneers finished the first half strong, as the hosts went to the break with a 19 point lead.
The second half was a completely different story completely for Pacific Union, as the Pioneers allowed the Golden Eagles to get back into the game. La Sierra (4-12 overall, 1-2 CalPac) used a combination of lights-out 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding.
Blandin was forced to the bench for a large part of the second half with foul trouble, allowing the Golden Eagles’ front line to take over.
La Sierra slowly chipped away at the Pioneers’ lead, taking a 19-point advantage all the way down to four points with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
La Sierra came within two with less than 30 seconds remaining, but a Kenny Lewis 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim to end the game.
“We went back to our old ways in the second half and obviously this team is figuring out how to win,” Rahn said. “Give credit to them (La Sierra), they kept hitting shots and didn’t give up all night. They tested us big time down the stretch and could have gone either way on that last possession.”
The visitors were led by Solorzano and shooting guard Isaac Deese, as the duo scored 29 of their 48 combined points after the break. Deese finished with a team-hight 25 points while pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out four assists. Solorzano showed why he is one of the top players in the conference, as the senior from Castro Valley was relentless on the glass, picking up 10 rebounds and finishing with 23 points for the game.
“We knew about Reynaldo Solorzano coming into the game, and he is one of the big reasons why they are one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the nation,” Rahn said. “It was an effort to attack him and try and get him off the floor. Unfortunately in the second half he started to kill us and he is a handful.”
The hosts got a solid showing from Chris Camper and Brandon Franklin down the stretch. Camper, originally from Long Beach, was a solid burst off the bench, as the senior combo guard ended the contest with 16 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Franklin was key, hitting two clutch free throws late in the game to keep the Pioneers ahead. The senior shooting guard from Perris, California finished with 10 points while pulling down three rebounds and passing out two assists.
With the win, Pacific Union snapped a three-game losing streak. The Pioneers are now in a six-way logjam for third place in the conference.
“You’ve got to peak at the right time. Some teams peak in the middle of the season, some peak early, and everyone else makes adjustments to catch up,” Rahn said. “I keep telling the guys we were in this same situation last season.”
Pacific Union College will now head out of state for two key games in Arizona to take on Benedictine University at Mesa (9-8 overall, 1-2 CalPac) Thursday and Embry-Riddle (7-6, 1-2) Saturday. The Pioneers will have a quick turnaround after that, hosting UC Santa Cruz in a nonconference matchup next Monday in Angwin.