SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A little bit of March Madness has arrived onto the campus of Allan Hancock College.
After a thrilling double overtime victory last Saturday in the Southern Regional Finals, the men's basketball team has reached the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) State Championship Tournament.
"It means a lot, not only to myself, but also the young men in the program who have put in the hard work together," said head coach Tyson Aye. "It's fun having people when I'm out shopping come up and say congrats. It's great seeing the guys succeed and seeing Hancock moving on, so I think it's just been great for our campus and our community as a whole."
This marks the first time the program has qualified for the state tournament since 1974 when the Bulldogs won the second of its two state titles.
"I feel like it's a testament ot the hard work we've put in before the season started and being able to stay together as a team during the whole season," said sophomore guard Shane Carley.
The Bulldogs (23-9) are in midst of a classic college basketball "Cinderella run."
Playing as a No. 10 seed in Southern California, Hancock beat No. 7 seed Fullerton 70-67 in overtime. The victory was the first playoff win for the team since 2001.
The Bulldogs followed up their first win with a thriller at No. 2 seeded San Bernardino Valley, winning in double overtime 91-90.
"We feel like we can play with anybody," said Carley. "Our last two wins have shown that. Both teams were ranked higher than us and we pulled it out and I feel like we can do it with anybody."
Aye said the success the team is enjoying is indicative of the close bond the team has formed. It's truly amazing considering the roster includes players from five different states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Italy.
"Not only are they a classy group of young men," Aye said. "They genuinely love and respect one another and it shows and people that come around them can feel it. They can feel how much they care for one another and how much they look out for one another and because of that, they're being successful on the basketball floor and off the floor."
Aye was also eager to point out the cumulative grade point average for the team is 3.45.
"It's a very unselfish group. Different guys have stepped up in different places and they've rallied around and rallied for each other," Aye said.
For the program, the trip to the state tournament, where they will face top seeded San Francisco City College on Friday, marks a return to glory.
Hancock does claim a rich history and legacy of junior college basketball excellence. The Bulldogs previously won a pair of state championships, with both coming many years ago in 1957 and 1974.
"I knew that bringing that tradition back was possible when I came to Hancock," Aye said. "When we came here we knew what was possible here, we knew how the community supported their program here, so we knew this was going to happen, we just didn't know when, so we're not surprised and we plan on this being a tradition playing at the state level year after year."
To add a third title, the Bulldogs will need to win three games this weekend. First, they'll have to survive San Francisco, which enters with a record of 30-1, including 26 straight wins.
"We know that they're a great team and they've accomplished a lot this year, but we think we're a good team too," said freshman guard Glenn Jordan. "If come out there and we just do our game plan and we just focus on us, we can get the win."
Should Hancock beat San Francisco, they'll advance to Saturday's Final Four. The championship game will be played Sunday.
"That would be the best feeling that I've ever had playing basketball to win a state championship, especially at a high level in college basketball," said Carley.
To help the team on in Friday's game, a rooter bus has been organized by the school. On Saturday, a bus full of supporters cheered the team on to its double overtime victory in San Bernardino.
"We've been getting a lot of encouragement and a lot of support and everybody is really excited," said Jordan. "We appreciate the fan love. It helps us, when all the fans come to the games, it makes us play better and we're just enjoying it all."
Friday's bus is open to anyone interested, including students, faculty, staff and members of the public.
A seat on the bus for adults is $25, with students $10.
"We're hoping the Bulldog Nation and the whole Central Coast can come on down to Ventura, pull out that blue from the closet and let's go, let's make history," said Aye.
Friday's game with San Francisco City College is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
All games will be broadcast by SoCal College Sports at www.socalcollegesports.com.