The Oxnard College men's basketball team finds itself in a strange position this week.
In control of the Western State Conference race.
Wednesday's results, which included a 70-68 OC win over visiting Santa Barbara City, put the Condors two full games ahead of the chasing pack in the WSC North, the two-loss crew of Ventura, Hancock and Santa Barbara.
It's probably been a generation, since the title-winning teams of Leroy Porter in 1979, 1980 and 1982, since the Condors last wrapped their talons around the WSC in such a way.
"Last year, we knocked off some big fish," said Oxnard coach Jason Cunningham. "This year, we're trying to be the big fish."
With teams led by Chris Massie, Jeremiah Massey and others, Oxnard has had the talent to be in this position previously. But this group, led by 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Scooter Holmes, showed its mettle Wednesday night.
Santa Barbara City may have lost by 30 points at Condor Center on Nov. 27, but the Vaqueros were coming off an upset win over Ventura Saturday and built a 60-53 lead with less than seven minutes to play.
"There were more prepared for what we were trying to do," said Holmes.
With high-scoring sophomore Marc Pajund out injured and high-scoring freshman Marcus Falley limited to 13 points, Holmes, who sometimes fulfils his role as a sophomore leader by yielding some of the glory to his younger teammates, took control, sparking a key 13-3 run with a thunderous dunk in transition.
"Because everybody else is playing so well, I think Scooter sometimes takes a back seat," said Cunningham. "But we needed our all-conference player."
After Malcolm Pope's steal and layup tied the game 62-62, Holmes gave Oxnard its first lead with a put back with 2:28 to play.
"It was just one of those nights when I had to play well for us to win," said Holmes, who finished with 23 points, including 19 in the second half, and six rebounds. "It was on my back."
Santa Barbara had the ball trailing by 2 with 12 seconds to play, but Holmes' steal inside
clinched the win.
"We played like a team that's trying to be a champion is supposed to," said Cunningham.
"We were down, we had the gut check and we were committed to do the things to get ourselves back in the basketball game."