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William Jessup hosts Menlo College in Cal Pac title game

By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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After dropping a conference tournament semifinal game to Menlo College, the top seed in the California Pacific Conference is gone, leaving second-seeded William Jessup as the host team for the league’s title game.

The California Pacific Conference co-champions from WJU (16-13, 9-3) are coming off a 66-55 first round victory over the No. 7 seed Bethany University and an 84-75 semifinal victory over No. 6 Simpson University. Fourth-seeded Menlo College is coming off a 57-49 first round victory over No. 5 Pacific Union College in the first round and a 65-61 semifinal victory over No. 1 California Maritime University. The winner of the Championship game gets an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament in Branson, Missouri.

The two conference tournament finalists split a pair of regular season meetings as each team won on its home court. Back on Jan, 23, Damal Neil led the Warriors with 26 points and 12 rebounds as they won 77-70 .

Menlo answered with a 64-56 win in mid-February in Atherton.

This is the third consecutive trip to the conference title tilt for the Warriors. WJU is 0-2 in those prior appearances with a 2008 loss as the No. 4 seed to No. 2 Menlo and a loss to top-seeded Cal State-East Bay last season on a 30-footer at the buzzer.

Jessup knocked off Bethany University in the first round of this year’s postseason tournament. The Warriors had beaten the Bruins in the two regular season matches. Jessup turned up the intensity and defensive pressure to build an early lead and cruise to a 66-55 victory.

WJU stormed out to a 14-1 lead in the first five minutes of action, using a tremendous defensive effort to set the pace. The Bruins struggled to find an offensive rhythm as the Warriors held them to just nine points in 12 minutes of action.

Junior Lucas Dominigue hit a two-point bucket with 8:34 left in the first half to stretch the lead to 29-9 and William Jessup led 41-22 at the halftime intermission.

Early in the second half, the teams continued to trade buckets as the Warriors lead stayed between 19 and 21 points. Jessup would stretch the lead to 26 points on a 3-pointer by Eleazer Jones, with six minutes left in the game

Jones finished with a game-high 20 points. Senior Jason Washington and sophomore Tevin Hurd added 10 and 11 points, respectively. Neil, a junior center, had a good game in the post with seven points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Dominigue added 10 rebounds, as well.

WJU coach Aaron Muhic was pleased with his teams’ intensity.

“Our goal was to put the defensive pressure on them early and we did just that,” Muhic said. “Last time we played Bethany, we felt our defense was relaxed and they were comfortable. Our guys set the tone early, and then we carried it out from there. We continue to take it one game at a time.”

The squad was back at home on Saturday night for the semifinals of the Cal Pac Conference tournament against No. 6 seed Simpson University. After beating Simpson in the two regular season meetings, this one was not so easy. In a back and forth game, the Warriors took control down the stretch to earn an 84-75 victory.

The Red Hawks left off where they ended their last game in an upset victory over Holy Names University in the first round. They jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but the Warriors battled back. Both teams made runs as the lead kept changing hands. Simpson went on an 8-0 run to take the lead at 37-30 with a few minutes left in the half. But Jessup responded with a 7-2 run as they headed into halftime down 39-37.

Every time Jessup would build a lead the Red Hawks would come right back. Down the stretch, the Warriors executed on offense and got the stops they needed as they finished on a 13-3 run to win the game.

Washington scored 24 points, while junior Kadeem Kirsten finished with 22 points. Hurd came off the bench to spark the Warriors with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Senior Jason Stubbs led the Red Hawks with 24 points, while Justin Sparks added 18 points.

"It was playoff intensity tonight," Muhic said. "Both teams played their hearts out. Down the stretch, we were able to execute and get the stops we needed. This team continues to get better each day and that's been our focus. Jason and Kadeem played tough. Tevin was the spark we needed off the bench."

The Warriors host Menlo at 7:30 p.m. in the conference title game.


FYI:

California Pacific Conference championship game

No. 4 Menlo College at No. 2 William Jessup University

7:30 p.m. Tuesday night at the Warrior Dome at Rocklin’s WJU