The holiday spirit overtook the Mother Lode Christian School boys' basketball team on Saturday in the championship game of the inaugural Cougar Holiday Classic.
Against an undefeated and heavily favored LeGrand team which won its first two games of the tournament by an average of 32 points, the upset-minded Cougars nearly pulled off the stunner. They ultimately were undone by turnovers in a 79-71 loss at Rex Heath Gym in Tuolumne.
The Cougars (8-2) turned the ball over 26 times, allowing LeGrand (8-0) 31 points off those turnovers, while scoring just four points off the Bulldogs' eight turnovers.
"You take away those turnovers in the beginning ," said Mother Lode coach Branden Hall, whose team coughed up the ball 11 times in the first quarter while falling behind 21-10.
After falling behind by as many as 12 points early in the second quarter, forward Cory Henson and the rest of the Cougars began to find their rhythm.
With Henson's 10 second-quarter points leading the way, Mother Lode ripped off a 14-3 run midway through the period, cutting LeGrand's lead to 28-26 before settling for a 39-34 deficit at halftime.
After a relatively quiet first half by his standards (six points, four rebounds), Chuck Storm scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in the third quarter while tying the game at 52-52 with less than three minutes to go in the period on an NBA-length 3-pointer.
After Storm knocked down a jumper to cut LeGrand's lead to 60-55, Henson split a pair of one-and-one free throws. Storm grabbed the rebound and scored on a putback, once again bringing the Cougars within two points at 60-58 with seven minutes remaining.
The Cougars, however, went cold during the final two-plus minutes, scoring just four points on free throws while LeGrand hit two field goals and three of four free throws to win the championship.
Storm, Henson and Chavez were joined on the all-tournament team by Adrian Sanchez (LeGrand), C.J. Martin (Sacramento Country Day), Casey Hawes (Victory Baptist of Mariposa), John Flanagan (Stoneridge Christian of Merced) and Stefano Ripley (Rite of Passage from Fricot City).