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49ers headed to Final Four
Playing in front of the largest and loudest crowd to ever fill Yuba's gymnasium, the 49ers made history on Saturday night by edging out Santa Rosa 73-70 to advance to the California Community College Athletic Association Championships for the first time ever.
And it didn't come easy.
Locked in a back-and-forth battle all the way through, both teams went on scoring spurts only to see the other answer back with a run of its own. However, the 49ers took the lead for good with 4:51 remaining, made clutch plays late and held off the Bear Cubs at the end to pull out the victory in dramatic fashion.
"When I first got this job, I said I wanted to win a state championship in 10 years," an ecstatic Yuba coach Doug Cornelius said. "I thought we had the team to do it last year, but all of a sudden this team comes together. It's just awesome."
Five Yuba players recorded double-figures in the game, but the difference-maker was sophomore forward De'Aundray Robinson, who turned in a monster 18-point, 19-rebound, four-assist effort to lead the 49ers to victory.
"We played together as a team and supported each other," Robinson said. "We kept playing with intensity and fought through it."
Yuba (32-3) started the game strong by knocking down its first three shots from the field to take an 8-3 lead early, but foul trouble and an off-shooting first half allowed the Bear Cubs (26-6) to hang around and eventually forge ahead.
With starters Spencer Butterfield, Anthony Romero and Cody Kale all sent to the bench with two fouls each, the 49ers went cold and shot just 37 percent in the first half (12 for 32) to fall behind by as many as seven points.
What kept Yuba in the game during its cold stretch was the play of Robinson and freshman Achoki Moikobu, who came off the bench to score five quick points, helping the 49ers knot the game at 33 heading into the half.
Tyler Fry and Kevin Crabb also chipped in with solid play off the bench for the 49ers, who managed to stave off a few Santa Rosa runs to stay within striking distance.
"We didn't shoot the ball real well, there's no hiding that, but guys stepped up," Cornelius said of the first half. "The guys who came off the bench kept us in it and that gave our starters a chance to rest."
Once back to full strength, the 49ers began to quickly put up points. The problem was they were matched by the sensational scoring of Santa Rosa guard Sama Taku, who scored 19 of his game-high 28 points after halftime.
The teams traded jabs during the entire second half before the 6-foot-8 Crabb turned in one of the game's many spectacular plays by driving the lane and converting a layup to give Yuba a 69-66 lead with 2:47 left.
Then, with the 49ers nursing a one-point lead, Crabb turned in the offensive play of the game. With the shot-clock winding down, Kale drove to the basket and flipped up a shot that was deflected and came up well short of the rim.
But Crabb was on the spot and was able to catch the ball in mid-air and drop it in just before the buzzer sounded to put Yuba up 71-68 with 27 seconds left to go.
"We were trying to run a play, but when I looked up there was just 5 seconds left (on the shot clock) so I just tried to make something happen," said Kale, who winked and said the shot was actually a pass.
"I saw there was 5 seconds left and he needed a screen. The dude tipped it and I caught it and went up," Crabb said. "There was no design. We needed a bucket and it happened to go in. It was huge."
But the game wasn't over yet.
Crabb made one of two free throws with 16 seconds remaining to put Yuba up by two, and when Santa Rosa came back up the court there was no doubt who would take the shot.
Sure enough, Taku took the ball and tried to drive his way to the basket, but Robinson and Crabb were there to converge on him and blocked his shot. The ball bounced directly to Romero, who was fouled with just 5.2 seconds left.
Romero made one free throw to put Yuba up by three, and when Taku's desperation 3 bounced off the front of the rim, the 49ers stormed the court to celebrate the victory as the crowd erupted.
"This was absolutely the best atmosphere since I've been at Yuba College, without question," Cornelius said. "The last couple of games were awesome, but man, I'll tell you what, this community ... we should've built a bigger gym."
Kale finished with 12 points and Butterfield and Romero added 11 points each for the 49ers. Crabb also came through with 10 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks off the bench.
"It was all about heart," Crabb said. "We've been through so much, and to be down seven in our home gym in front of the biggest crowd ever ... everybody on the whole team stepped up tonight."
Yuba will now advance to the state's Final Four, which will take place at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento on Saturday. Should the 49ers win, they will play for the state championship on Sunday.
CONTACT Andy Arrenquin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4790. Find him on Facebook at advarsitysports or on Twitter at @ADaarrenquin