Area basketball fans received a late Christmas gift Thursday as not one but three Tuolumne County teams faced tough competition from around the valley under the same roof in Columbia.
Columbia College's annual Robert and Mary Fuchs Memorial Holiday Classic tipped off with a generous turnout of spectators at Oak Pavilion that had Claim Jumper boss Nathan Rien pleased.
"It was great to see everyone come out and support us," said Rien.
Sonora, Summerville and Columbia hoopsters all took the court in the opening round and were defeated in a series of close back-and-forth battles.
The Claim Jumpers fell to Siskiyous 61-59 in the final game of the day.
Rien said it was close throughout the first half with both teams tied 25-25 at the break.
Columbia jumped out to a one-point lead in the final two minutes and switched to a 2-3 zone defense in an effort to prevent any big shots that could turn it in Siskiyous favor.
"If you're up by one you go to zone to pack it in and we packed it in but they went straight through our defense," he said.
A Siskiyous player was fouled while going for an offensive rebound in the final seconds and sank both free throws to put the Eagles ahead for good.
As usual, Claim Jumper sophomore Ashton Richardson was crashing the boards for Columbia. He pulled down 18 of the Jumpers' 46 rebounds.
Jumper freshman D.J. Muses led the team with 19 points while Summerville grad Travis Arenas had seven rebounds and seven points, including a 3-pointer.
Bret Harte grad Danny Radford, who leads Columbia in total points scored on the season, is usually the Jumpers go-to man for treys but went 0-7 in 3-point attempts against Siskiyous. He still contributed six points on the night.
"We definitely were missing some main shots tonight, but we'll get back to grinding it out," Rien said.
The Jumpers (5-8) next face Sacramento on Saturday night.
Sacramento and Siskiyous prepare for battle tonight at 6 p.m. The Eagles will be crowned the tournament champions should they defeat Sacramento.
Rien said in the event that all teams go 1-1, a tiebreaker will be determined based on points allowed throughout the tournament.
Summerville falls to Central Catholic in rollercoaster game
The Summerville Bears were ahead 26-18 at halftime, but the Central Catholic Raiders stormed back for a 60-56 win.
The Bears jumped out to their early lead in the first quarter and were able to maintain it going into the break.
Central Catholic applied the defensive pressure and managed to outscore the Bears 19-13 in the third quarter.
Raider guard Donovin Townsend thought the turnaround actually started during the second quarter in the form of a slam dunk by 6-5 forward Johnathan Boddie.
"We were just flat and that was that jump start that got us going," said Townsend, who had nine points, three rebounds and an assist.
Also for Central Catholic, guard Joe Hamilton scored 13 points, John Fenton had 12 and Nate Loya 10.
Jake Bland also grabbed a team-high nine boards.
"They came out with way more intensity than we did," Townsend said of the Bears. "I was impressed by the stuff they have."
Summerville struggled to score after Central Catholic went to its full-court press, but several players came through with clutch shots down the stretch to keep the game from getting away.
After a Hamilton 3-pointer gave Central Catholic its first lead about halfway through the fourth quarter, Summerville's Jesse Roberson answered with one of his own to make it 48-47 in the Bears' favor.
Two fouls and three successfully converted free throws later and the Raiders were up again 50-48, a lead they would only build upon as the final minutes ticked ticked off.
"They couldn't keep up with us in man so they switched to a zone, which gave us trouble," said Summerville senior Logen Foster of Central Catholic's late turnaround.
Foster had a game-high 20 points for the Bears. He hustled on defense as well, getting six steals and grabbing three rebounds.
Bear captain Rosendo Amaya-Wood led the effort in the post with eight rebounds while Roberson had seven.
"We did a lot better than the score at the end showed," said Foster. "It was a tough loss, but we'll get over it."
Sonora edged by Merced, sets up rematch with Bears
The Wildcats battled back from an 11-point deficit in the first quarter against Merced and took their first lead at the end of the third, but the Eagles' stingy defense only allowed Sonora five points during the final period to ice the win.
Merced went on a 11-0 run to start the game but Sonora came back to tie up 16-16 midway through the second quarter.
The Cats would take their first lead of the game when they were down 28-27 with about 30 seconds in the third quarter.
Wildcat junior Derek Smith drained a 3-pointer off an assist by Nick Mays to make the score 30-28 for Sonora with not enough time remainingin the period for Merced to get off a quality shot.
"We knew we needed to step up our defense in order to stick with this team and we came out and tried our best," said Smith of his team's third quarter surge. Smith had five points and the led the Cats in rebounds and assists.
Also for Sonora, Ben Bates scored 12 points and Nick Mays had eight.
"The second half we came back and got some energy in it, but we couldn't finish when they started pressuring us," said Bates.
"If you look at the scores of the games we've lost our prolem is finishing," he added, referring, in part, to a Dec. 11 overtime loss to Summerville.
Bates and the Cats will get a chance to even the score with the Bears at 1:30 p.m.
With both teams suffering losses in the first round of the tourney, they now must face each other once again in the consolation bracket.
"We're excited to get a second chance at that," said Bates. "I know it will be close - and I know we want to win pretty bad."
Tickets to the tournament cost $10 for a single day or $5 for seniors and children 12-and-under.
All proceeds support Columbia's basketball program, which is funded entirely through donations, sponsorships and fundraisers.