JC men’s basketball: Fresno City title hopes come to an halt at state final four

This was a tough one for the Fresno City College men’s basketball team.

The Rams were eying a chance to advance to the state title game against City College of San Francisco for the first time since the 2012 state title season.

It looked good for at least 36 minutes of the game against defending champion Saddleback.

The Gauchos caught up with Fresno City on a made free throw by Lyle Hexom with 43 seconds remaining to force overtime at 49-49. Saddleback then opened overtime on a 6-0 run to defeat the Rams 66-61 in a state semifinal game at Las Positas College in Livermore on Saturday.

The Rams had plenty of chances, including a chance to take the lead with 11 seconds remaining, but Nick Hilton’s shot bounced off the rim.

Entering the contest, Fresno City led the all-time series 12-0.

It looked like it was headed for a 13-0 series lead with the Rams holding a 12-point lead in the first half thanks to a pressuring defense that forced Saddleback into 13 turnovers.

But the Gauchos (31-1) figured it out in the second half, chipping away at the Rams’ nine-point halftime lead.

Fresno City (28-7) had two opportunities to tie the score at 64-64 with eight seconds remaining in overtime but three-point attempts by Evan Stillahn and Hilton were air balls as Charles Trotter made both free throws to seal the game.

Aaron Cameron finished with a team-high 14 points for the Rams, while Mike Crawley added 11 points.

Hexom finished with a game-high 17 points for Saddleback.

Anthony Galaviz: 559-441-6042, @agalaviz_TheBee

Saddleback 66, Fresno City 61

Fresno City (28-7): Nick Hilton 7, Terrance Wienecke 3, Aaron Cameron 14, Jaffrey Stillman 4, BJ Shelton 4, Mike Crawley 11, Evan Stillahn 5, Josh Sykes 8, Will Dorsey 5. Totals: 22-62 (5-22). FT: 12-18.

Saddleback (31-1): T.J. Shorts 8, Devante Klines 10, Josh Mishler 3, Breaon Brady 10, Charles Trotter 5, Jalen Hall 4, Lyle Hexom 17, Maurice Jones 9. Totals: 22-48 (3-8). FT: 19-30.

Halftime:Fresno City 28, Saddleback 19. Three-pointers: Fresno City 5 (Hilton, Wienecke, Cameron, Crawley, Stillahn), Saddleback 3 (Klines 3). Rebounds: Fresno City 33 (Crawley 4, Sykes 4, Ashley 4), Saddleback 43 (Hexom 9). Assists: Fresno City 14 (Dorsey 5), Saddleback 17 (Shorts 5). Fouls: Fresno City 26, Saddleback 21. Fouled out: Fresno City (Sykes).