Congratulations go out to coach Maurice Compton and the Merritt college men’s basketball team. It was just a few months ago that these guys would drive up from Oakland in the evening to Gamespeed for off season basketball training. A great group of athletes who had a lot of energy and drive and were a pleasure to work with. They eventually lost their next game to Mt Sac but had a great season especailly down the home stretch. At the sessions we always said the training was money in the bank for the later part of the season. While others faltered you stepped up, great job guys.
Small college notebook: Merritt College’s surprising men’s basketball team is still alive as playoffs reach final four
By Matt Schwab
The Merritt College Thunderbirds have taken their fans on quite a ride.
Four teams remain in the state men’s basketball playoffs, and Merritt, which finished third in the Bay Valley Conference and was seeded No. 15 in the Northern Regional playoffs, is still playing.
Merritt (18-12) will face favored Mt. San Antonio College-Walnut (27-3) at 4 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals at Cosumnes River in Sacramento, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game at 1 p.m.
In Friday’s other semifinal, City College of San Francisco (31-0), which has crushed three straight playoff opponents by an average of 36 points, will play Chaffey-Rancho Cucamonga (26-6) at 7 p.m.
The Thunderbirds are the lowest seed from the north ever to advance to the state’s final four. The 1958 Merritt team was the state runner-up.
“The key element for us is we just stayed determined throughout all the adversity we have faced,” said Merritt forward Eric Nelson, an El Cerrito High graduate averaging 11.2 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game. “We showed a lot of heart and have good chemistry together. I feel like we’re really underrated. Internally, we feel like we’re the favorite to win the entire thing.”
The Thunderbirds’ postseason thrill ride began with a 63-62 win over No. 18 American River in an out-bracket game. Merritt then upset defending state champion and No. 2 seed Fresno City 100-83 and No. 7 Ohlone 79-76, both on the road. The
latter game was marred by a postgame melee among the spectators, which resulted in two Merritt players being suspended for leaving the bench.Undaunted by the drama off the court, Merritt upended No. 14 Delta in Stockton 79-75 in the fourth round to earn a trip to the state’s final four. Sophomore point guard Joshua Amey (Berkeley) agrees that it’s tougher winning on the road, but it’s nothing the Thunderbirds can’t handle.
“It only makes us focus more and come together as a team more, because we know as a team everybody else is pulling against us,” said Amey, a team captain.
Mt. San Antonio, which was the No. 3 seed in the Southern regional, is paced by Corey Allen (21.1 ppg) and Garrett Nevels (19.8 ppg).