Stags Reign Supreme, Steal SCIAC Title

In an epic weekend for the
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s basketball team (21-6, 12-4 SCIAC), the Stags
concluded their regular season with back-to-back wins in the SCIAC playoffs against
California Lutheran University (18-7, 12-4 SCIAC) Feb. 27 and Chapman University
(22-5 SCIAC) Feb. 28 to bring home the SCIAC tournament championship.

In their first game of the weekend,
the Stags were slow to build momentum and Cal Lu jumped to an 18-13 lead with 9:26 remaining in the first half.
But CMS came storming back with an 11-0 run, capped off by a three-pointer
from guard Jack Grodahl CM ’15 to give CMS the 26-18 advantage with about five minutes remaining in the half.

“Having been eliminated by Cal Lu
last year in the first round of the SCIAC tournament, the possibility of losing
to them had to sit in the back of our minds,” center Shelby Lane CM ’15 said.
“But we knew we were capable of beating them a third time this season, so we
continued to play confident basketball.”   

The Kingsmen battled back and, after
a three of their own and a breakaway dunk, evened the score at 28-28 with
less than three minutes left in the first period. CMS responded once again with
a nine-point run to take a 37-30 lead into the locker room, giving the Stags the confidence they needed to finish the game strongly.

“We got together at halftime and figured out a
way to improve on what wasn’t working in the first half, rebounding better and
taking better shots,” Lane said.

The Stags maintained their
intensity in the second half, extending their lead to 66-46 after guard Jack
Earley CM ’16 knocked down a pair of free throws. The Stags were able to cruise
to victory throughout the second half, and when time ran out on the Kingsmen, CMS earned
their third victory over Cal Lu this season.

“Having played Cal Lu only a week
earlier, it would have been easy to let mental fatigue set in and not bring it
all out on the court,” Lane said. “With an NCAA Tournament bid waiting for us
at the end of the weekend, we brought the energy to make our season-long goal a
reality.”

With the victory, CMS surpassed the
20-win mark for the second straight season and the third time in four years.
Head coach Ken Scalmanini now has six 20-win seasons under his belt, and is
only two wins short of 300 during his tenure at CMS. According to his players,
Scalmanini’s contagious energy ignites the team’s effort on the court. 

“The
basketball season is a long one,” Lane said. “It is easy to lose intensity as
the season wears on, but Coach Scali does a great job of motivating us.”

The Stags used that intensity Saturday, confidently
taking the court against first-seed Chapman University, who had defeated No. 4 Whittier College (15-11, SCIAC 9-7) 83-66 in the other SCIAC semifinal
matchup.

“I think we understood the
challenge we were up against,” Lane said. “You aren’t being honest with
yourself if you think a team that swept you during the regular season could get
a third win against you at home. But we played loose out there, which was a
large part of why we won.”

Although both teams came out aggressively
in the first half, the Stags took the 30-26 lead into the break. After the half, CMS pushed their
advantage into the double digits. Grodahl scored
CMS’s first 11 points in the first four minutes, highlighted by two three-pointers.

With 9:34 remaining, free throws
from Tyler Gaffaney CGU inflated the CMS advantage to 55-37. Chapman then answered CMS’s baskets to narrow the gap on the scoreboard to only 10 points, and with seven seconds left in the game, Chapman guard Colin Zavrsnick hit a jumper from the top
of the key to get within three points of CMS.

Gaffaney, though, sealed the game
for CMS with two more free throws, finishing with 17 points on the night.

With the win, CMS brought the
SCIAC tournament championship title back to Claremont, avenging their two
losses to Chapman earlier in the season and becoming the first team in eight
years to win the tournament on the road.

In addition, the Stags brought home some end of the year awards in recognition of their excellent season.  Gaffaney earned his second straight SCIAC MVP, Scalmanini was named the SCIAC coach of the year and Lane was named to the SCIAC second team.

“It felt like we were playing our
best basketball at the right time and all the things we worked so hard on
throughout the season are coming together,” Lane said.

The Stags also clinched
the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championships, where
they will face off against Texas Lutheran University (18-9) March 6 in
Marshall, Texas in the opening round of the tournament.

“We are really excited to play in
the NCAAs,” guard Oliver Mausner CM ’17 said. “It would be great for the school
and the team if we could make some noise this year.”

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