Like the sundowner winds that made the temperature soar Saturday evening, the Santa Barbara Breakers were too hot even for a basketball team named the High Desert Rattlers. The Breakers hit triple digits early in the fourth quarter and capped a perfect season with a 122-103 victory in the West Coast Pro Basketball League championship game at the SBCC Sports Pavilion.
“I’m not going to apologize,” said Curt Pickering, a co-founder of the WCBL and coach of the Breakers, who dominated the new springtime league. They went 18-0, the last two wins in playoff games on their home court. Pickering noted that the Breakers were 17-6 last year against similar competition in the International Basketball League.
“We had more stars last year,” he said. They included former NBA players Toby Bailey and Lamond Murray. “This year, it’s a stronger team. We don’t have egos.”
Josh Merrill led the Breakers with 23 points and nine rebounds Saturday night. After the game, the 6‘9” forward, a sports pastor at his church in Porter Ranch, received a trophy as the league’s most valuable player. “This is my first championship since we won the Big West regular season at UCSB (in 1999),” Merrill said. “I tried not to think about [going unbeaten], but tonight I realized it’s a special moment. It’s a testament to the quality of the team and the organization.”
Former Nebraska guard Tim Taylor scored 21 points for the Breakers, and Allan Purnell had 18. Rashid Byrd, the wiry 7‘1” center from New York, snagged 11 rebounds and blocked five shots as he hung tough against High Desert’s 290-pound behemoth Armando Cosio.
Shantay Legans helped the home team with five assists. The Dos Pueblos High grad dished off several no-look passes, one of which Byrd converted into a slam dunk for a 72-52 lead. The score was 109-73 midway through the final period. The Rattlers, led by former Santa Barbara High star Mike Garrett‘s 25 points, closed the gap in garbage time.
With 10 seconds remaining in the game, Pickering received welcome relief from the heat. Byrd dumped a cooler of water over his head, soaking him down to his shoes. Like Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics, the Breakers coach was wet and happy, a champion.
Cuba Tops Foresters
In the opener of their three-game series at Havana’s Estadio Latinoamericano, the Cuban national baseball team defeated the Santa Barbara Foresters 8-3 Saturday. Cuba’s first baseman Alexander Malleta slammed a pair of home runs and had five RBIs. Catcher Cameron Rupp homered for the Foresters, who trailed just 4-3 after four innings. UCSB pitcher Mike Ford took the loss. The Cubans, who are playing for spots on their Olympic team, had 11 hits in the game, while the Foresters were limited to five.
Meanwhile, the Foresters’ stateside squad beat the visiting Santa Maria Indians 6-2 in a league game at UCSB. Santa Barbara got a solid performance from starting pitcher Austin Fleet of Coastal Carolina. The Foresters and Indians play again at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium on Sunday afternoon, while the traveling team plays game two against Cuba.