COSTA MESA, Calif. – The tenth-ranked Pride men claimed Vanguard's second-ever sole Golden State Athletic Conference title on Tuesday evening with a 69-61 win over The Master's College in front of a thrilled home crowd, the majority of whom were not born the first time the program earned the crown in 1988-89. Senior Preston Wynne (Wellpinit, Wash.), one of the few players on the 2014 team alive in 1988, used his experience to score a game-high 25 points in the affair.
The Lions (23-5, 10-3 GSAC) have won 23 contests and are just five wins shy of the all-time Vanguard record for victories in a season (1988-89, 28-4).
"I couldn't be happier for our guys and what they have accomplished," head coach Rhett Soliday said. "They are the ones who have put in the work and who have paid the price. They have always believed that we could get this done this year. This is about them showing up every day and committing themselves to be their best, individually and collectively. One of the things that you have to do in order to win a conference title is be good at home and in my opinion, our fans have been the best in the GSAC this season. The support of our alumni has been overwhelming and that goes such a long way in motivating our guys to keep competing."
Vanguard opened Tuesday's competition aggressively, starting the evening with a 14-4 run which was capped with a steal by senior Noel Larkins (Placentia, Calif.) and an explosive dunk on the fast break from freshman Zach Allmon (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) at 14:49.
Just over two minutes later, Larkins kept the Blue and Gold out front 17-8 with a bucket of his own, a 3-pointer, courtesy of his classmate Tino Zaragoza (Orange, Calif.).
Wynne got The Pit roaring and chanting next as he joined the exclusive 1,000-point club at the 9:43 mark with a mid-range jumper, and he went off from there, hitting a pair from behind the arc in a two-minute span to put Vanguard up 27-15.
Gorman followed suit with a trey of his own on the subsequent trip and Mason and Jones dropped back-to-back lay-ups to force a TMC timeout as the Mustangs went down 34-18 with 5:23 to play in the period.
Vanguard emerged from the timeout looking determined and disciplined, namely on defense, as it proceeded to hold The Master's to just six points, four of which were free throws, in the final minutes of the half.
Wynne paced Vanguard with 15 first-period points as the Lions took a 42-24 lead into the locker room.
The Mustangs came out strong in the second, scoring six unanswered before Soliday yelled for a timeout to talk it over.
Less than a minute after the chat The Pride found itself back up by 15 (48-33), but it wasn't over as the Mustangs' shots continued to drop and TMC battled to cut the margin to eight (54-46) at 9:02.
Wynne answered with his fourth 3-pointer on the Lions' next possession and hit his fifth before a minute ticked off of the clock to give Vanguard a 60-51 edge with 6:45 to play.
Larkins shadowed Wynne with another from behind the arc at to widen the gap to 12 points 35 seconds later, but TMC countered with two lay-ups and a pair of free throws to bring the game within two possessions at the 4:26 mark.
Wynne replied with another jumper and Vanguard held off the Mustangs from there to claim the elusive championship.
Gorman finished with 7 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals, while Mason posted 14 points and 8 rebounds to match senior Swing Chuang (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) as the Lions' rebounding leader.
Larkins and Allmon registered 8 and 9 points, respectively, in the game and combined for 9 boards. Larkins also notched 3 steals and two dishes on the night.
Jones and sophomore Myles Smith (San Pedro, Calif.) dished four assists apiece for The Pride.
The Master's drops to 18-10 overall (6-7 GSAC) with the loss.
Vanguard has one regular season contest remaining against San Diego Christian. The final home game of the season is scheduled for Saturday, March 1st at 7:30pm.