Lookout, Missouri here comes Cal Maritime.
The No. 2-seeded Cal Maritime men's basketball team won the California Pacific Conference for the second year in a row as the Keelhaulers hung on to defeat No. 4-seed Menlo 66-63 at Cal Maritime. With the win, the Keelhaulers (24-6) earned a trip to Point Lookout, MO at the College of the Ozarks on March 6.
"Going back-to-back is nice but it's about this group of guys," Cal Maritime head coach Bryan Rooney said. "We talked a lot about family this year and to do this with this year's team is extremely special. We're excited to get on a plane and go to Missouri."
The win was typical one for the Keelhaulers as they won by playing great defense. Their leading scorer, Grant Blaser, only had 12 points. But it was a key steal by Blaser in the closing moments of the game and a 9-0 run in the second half that sparked Cal Maritime's victory.
Cal Maritime played stellar defense early and built a 23-13 lead midway through the first half. A Hamilton Chang layup at the buzzer put the Keelhaulers up 31-24 at the half.
Menlo stormed right back, however, and went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 31. A Casey Healy layup off a nice pass from Howie Manzo and a jumper from Blaser put the Keelhaulers up 35-31, but the Oaks came back again and took a 38-36 lead on a 3-pointer by David Abittan with just under 10 minutes left in regulation.
Moments later the Keelhaulers seemed to find another gear, especially on defense as they went on
"I think that run was the turning point of the game," Rooney said. "We had a lot of resolve on defense tonight, which has been our calling card. We had to tonight because our offense was kind of struggling. We made some big free throws and clutch plays down the stretch in order to win."
Although Cal Maritime built the lead to 61-54 with under a minute left, the game didn't seem sealed until the very last second. Blaser had a key steal off an inbounds pass with 27 seconds left and promptly made two free throws to give Cal Maritime up 63-54. Overall, Maritime hit 15-20 free throws down in the last two minutes to win the game.
Although the Keelhaulers have won the conference again, senior Keven Campbell isn't satisfied yet. Campbell finished with nine points, while Manzo and Wiley had 10 points each.
"It feels like a new season is starting right now," Campbell said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet. We want to go to Missouri and win."