After leading scorer and rebounder Plamen Hristov suffered a hand injury in practice just one day earlier, the Cuesta College men’s basketball team saw its season end with an 84-67 playoff loss to Citrus on Wednesday.
Hristov played 29 minutes, grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, but after getting his hand caught in another player’s jersey at practice, he went 0 for 2 from the field with just two points.
Cougars head coach Rusty Blair said X-rays were negative for any major fractures, but there was clearly enough damage to affect Hristov’s play and burst Cuesta’s bubble.
“Yesterday in practice,” Blair said, “it was like somebody took a pin in the air and just the whole thing went out.
“We’re a better team than that, but we don’t even get to represent ourselves correctly because we’re not putting a healthy team on the floor.”
Hesitant to blame the defeat on the injury, Blair said he would have liked to have seen a better effort from a team hosting a first-round playoff game.
But Cuesta has been hit hard by injury and illness this season. Four players were lost to season-ending injuries early on, and several others have been dealing with nagging injuries and flu-like symptoms.
When center Mohammed Ali Ben Ammar went down with an apparent knee injury late in the game, it brought the Cougars’ total number of players to nine.
Still, Cuesta (16-10) fought to stay in the game.
Citrus (18-14), which moves on to face top-seeded Saddleback, had its lead cut to 60-53 with five minutes left in the game, but Kerry Carter hit a 3 to push the lead back out to double digits, and the Cougars got no closer.
Carter scored 23 points to lead four Citrus players in double digits. Gregory Sequele had 15, Steven Thornton Jr. had 12 and Jordan Mackie scored 10.
Oscar Pedroso had a game-high 26 for Cuesta, which also got 13 points from Jeremy Landenbergue and 10 points and seven rebounds from Ben Ammar before he went out.
Though Cuesta had few players left on the roster by the end of the season, many were freshmen eligible to rejoin what should be a veteran squad next season.
Hristov, Landenbergue and point guard Kenny Robinson were the lone sophomores.
“Maybe it can be good for next year,” Pedroso said. “Just like we had three sophomores, we had seven freshmen. Maybe they can make it next year. I hope so.”