Every time the Cuesta College men’s basketball team made its run, it seemed as if Ventura had the answer.
But just when it looked like the Cougars had nothing left, Malte Kramer gave the Cougars the rallying cry they needed.
“We’re going to hold them,” Kramer told his teammates on the sideline. “And we’re going to win this game.”
He was right.
In a heavyweight fight for the top spot in the Western State Conference’s Northern Division, Kenny Robinson sank three free throws in the final minute to give the Cougars (18-7, 6-1) an 85-84 win over the Pirates on Saturday night.
“I just had that feeling that we were not going to lose it,” Kramer said. “We’ve had so many close games this year and we’ve come out on top on all of them. We have that swagger, I think they call it here.”
The win gives Cuesta yet another victory in what has been an impressive run in conference play.
Both Cuesta and Ventura came into the game tied atop the Northern Division, with the Cougars’ only loss coming to Moorpark, 75-66, earlier this season.
Ventura’s only loss in conference play came to the Cougars, 84-79, in both team’s WSC opener, and Saturday, Cuesta got the best of the Pirates again.
With the Pirates leading 77-71 with six minutes left, Cuesta head coach Rusty Blair knew he needed to change things up. As Ventura started to draw out possessions and run out the clock, Blair took a chance.
“I tried to do some double teams in the half court, with the objective of trying and give up the quick shot, give us more possessions,” Blair said. “They then missed three straight 3-pointers and we were able to get the ball back and that changed the flow of the game.”
It sure did. The Cougars got within 83-78 after a layup from Robinson and a 3-pointer from Calen Coleman on back-to back possessions.
Robinson then made it 83-82 on a putback with just under a minute left. The Cougars then forced a turnover on the Pirates’ next possession, and a foul sent Robinson to the free-throw line.
He hit two free throws for an 84-83 lead, and the Cougars didn’t look back.
“I just had to do anything I could do to win the game,” Robinson said. “It felt great. I just wanted to come out and play hard. I came out shooting terrible, but I told coach I was going to come through and I did.”
Robinson finished with 13 points, and was one of four Cougars in double figures.
Both Kramer and Coleman scored a team-high 18 points, while Marc Hopkinson scored 10. All of that helped Cuesta inch one step closer to the automatic postseason berth that comes with winning the division.
The Cougars still have five more games left in regular season play— including a midweek matchup against Allan Hancock on Wednesday in Santa Maria — before the postseason hits, but with the win against Ventura, the Cougars now control their destiny.
“I think we are really, really talented,” Kramer said. “We are much better than we showed today, I think we are not even close to our limit yet. If we learn to play a little bit smarter throughout the game, we are going to be really, really good.
“We can reach another level.”