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Bench steps up for Shasta College in 71-56 win over Lassen

Shasta College's Jonny Cruz, pictured earlier this season against Redwoods, scored 15 points off the bench in Saturday's win over Lassen College in the Sierra Pacific Industries College Game of the Week. (Mike Daly/Shasta County Sports)

A solid starting five may win some games but pushing for a conference title takes depth.

Shasta College’s men’s basketball team flexed its muscles with that power during Saturday’s 71-56 home win over Lassen College on sophomore night in the Sierra Pacific Industries College Game of the Week.

The Knights’ bench outscored the Cougars 27-11, getting 15 points from freshman Jonny Cruz in the win. That makes 56 points across the past two contests from Shasta’s non-starters as they play with no room for error in chasing College of the Redwoods for the GVC title.

And it’s a mindset Kele Fitzhugh instills in his squad throughout the year.

“I told Jonny last week that he was playing like he was a reserve but there are no reserves on this team; there are players who start and those who don’t but the guys coming off the bench have to play with confidence,” Fitzhugh said. “That was the Jonny I wanted to see.”

Video by Tracy Holmes/Shasta County Sports

Cruz and freshman Derek Gorden to each hit a pair of 3s early in the second half to ignite a 19-3 Shasta run that turned a five-point lead into a runaway win. Shasta needs a win at GVC leader Redwoods in Wednesday’s finale to share the conference title and earn the automatic bid for the state playoffs, Fitzhugh said. A loss drops them to a team on the bubble.

But to even be in this position after limping into conference play six weeks ago with seven losses across eight contests says a lot about the teams resiliency.

“We had a tough stretch when it was up in the air and we had no energy or were flat,” Cruz said. “We just kept at it hard in practice so when conference came around we could push for a conference title and now we’re here.”

The Knights never trailed the game, starting with efficient shooting from the field and the free throw line early on. Tanner Bidwell was aggressive driving to the hoop, Gorden added timely buckets and Zach Thompson nailed back-to-back mid-range jumpers to put Shasta up 36-23 with 5:47 left in the first half.

But Shasta went cold from there and allowed Lassen to finish the half on an 8-0 run to see it’s lead cut to five.

“When teams get up a little bit they tend to be quick in shooting instead of running the offense,” Fitzhugh said. “They want to get from 13 to 15 and take a quick shot and they turn around and score on the other end. We started lacking confidence and missed some easy shots and doubted ourselves.”

Simmer Singh snapped that drought in the first possession of the second half and the Knights regained their confidence immediately. Gorden buried back-to-back 3s and Cruz followed with a trey of his own. Brendan Hoag drove the lane for 2 and Cruz found his stroke from downtown again. Gorden’s and-1 bucket put the Knights up 19 midway through the second half and Shasta was in complete control.

“It’s nice to hit some 3s during that stretch and they were good 3s based on penetration kick-outs instead of east-west and launch,” Fitzhugh said. “I tell them ‘it’s not the 3 itself, it’s how we get it and the percentage goes way up if you go inside-out.’”

Lassen didn’t get closer than 12 the rest of the way as Fitzhugh emptied his bench with four minutes to go, allowing for every player on the roster to see the court.

Gorden scored 15 points while sophomores Thompson and Bidwell went out in their final home game as a Knight with 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Shasta 71, Lassen 56
Lassen 31-25—56
Shasta 36-35—71
Lassen: Mukenga 20, Shabazz 11, Ortega 11, Davis 7, Yohannes 3, Kalin 2, Murphy 1, Hall 1.
Shasta: Cruz 15, Gorden 15, Thompson 13, Bidwell 11, Singh 5, Hoag 5, Larson 3, Clements 2, Chao 2.
3-pointers—Lassen 1 (Yohannes); Shasta 8 (Gorden 4, Cruz 2, Thompson, Larson).

Team GVC, Overall
Redwoods 7-2, 20-5
Shasta 6-3, 15-12
Butte 5-4, 15-10
Feather River 4-5, 9-16
Siskiyous 3-6, 9-17
Lassen 2-7, 6-17

T.J. is a national-award winning journalist passionate about local news and telling the story no one else knows about. He’s roamed sidelines, baselines and bleachers in the North State since 2010 and is a content producer from sunup to sundown. Sports are a hobby he shares with his wife Tracy where they’ve spent many dates around a field or court of some sort.

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