Just two months ago, Tommy Condon was told that his season was over.
The senior sharpshooter, who earned All-Channel League first-team honors a season ago, made his season debut Jan. 10 against Santa Barbara, but saved his heroics for the second act.
After the Dons won at the buzzer on an alley oop layup by Jasper Johnson earlier this month, the Royals were able to get their revenge, gutting out a 47-44 victory Saturday night at the SBCC Sports Pavilion.
“It’s a dream come true, honestly,” said Condon, who scored all of his game-high 15 points in the final two quarters to give San Marcos its first cross-town rivalry victory over Santa Barbara since Feb. 6, 2018. “I’ve done a lot of rehab and worked my way back and it feels amazing.”
Condon was sidelined due to a foot injury that doctors have said may stick with him for the rest of his life. After being diagnosed with a season-ending injury, Condon went to multiple doctors before seeing a chiropractor who helped him get back on the court. His hard work paid off in a big way Saturday, giving the senior his first varsity win over the Dons.
“It feels way better than I thought,” he said.
Condon went to the line with six seconds left and his team up by one, but he missed the first end of the one-and-one. Lucky for the Royals, John Connolly was able to tip the ball away from Santa Barbara’s Bryce Warrecker and back to Condon, who drove and was fouled with four seconds left.
This time Condon was able to convert both free throws to give his team a three-point lead, but Santa Barbara still had a chance to tie.
On the ensuing inbounds, the ball was thrown in to Warrecker, who drove the middle of the floor and passed to Jackson Gonzales on the right wing. Connolly, who fouled out of the Jan. 10 matchup, was able to get a piece of Gonzales’ 3-point attempt, came away with the ball and tossed it in the air as time expired. The San Marcos faithful, who were left in dismay just two weeks ago following Johnson’s tip in, had their chance to celebrate Saturday. The fans stormed the court in celebration.
“That’s a huge win for league, that’s a huge win going into CIF, and it’s always good being them. It’s a huge win all the way around,” said Royals coach Jelani Hicks. “Great game to be apart of.”
Hicks said that Condon showed signs of getting back to his old self earlier in the week against Cabrillo.
“We were pretty confident knowing who Tommy is and what he does, that he was going to bring us a spark, and he came up big and crucial for us,” Hicks said, adding that he knew Saturday’s game was going to come down the wire.
“We’ve been here before,” he said. “We had a whole almost two weeks of getting better, preparing and practicing for situations like this, and I’m glad we were able to just turn that corner, maturity wise, and be solid and tough enough down the stretch to just hold them off. That’s a good team – that’s a very good team.
“(We) didn’t like losing to them the way we did last time and seeing how everything went down after that, and we used that. We used that as motivation to just stay solid and be really tough. Not the fake, pounding your chest tough, but really gritty, no matter what they do just stay the course and trust what we do, and I think we did a good job of that.”
The Royals had been waiting for Condon to have a breakout game since his return to the lineup. Tony Njia, who was on the bench in the final minutes after picking up four fouls, said that Condon is the team’s best scorer who will only gain confidence moving forward.
“It was perfect timing for him to come back and just do his thing,” Njia said. “This one feels good, but we’re not done.”
With the win, San Marcos (13-9, 5-1 in Channel League) now moves into a first place tie with Santa Barbara (14-8. 5-1). Each team has three more league games remaining.
The two teams were like prize fighters in the early going, feeling each other out before going on the attack. After being tied at 9 to end the first quarter, Santa Barbara was able to get San Marcos into foul trouble and opened up a 15-9 lead with five minutes remaining in the first half.
San Marcos rallied to tie the game at 15 after Njia hit a pair from the free-throw line. Gonzales knocked down a layup before Warrecker split the pair at the line to give Santa Barbara an 18-15 lead with 2:44 left in the half. Connolly converted a layup with 1:10 left in the half and a few possessions later found Njia streaking down the middle of the floor for an easy basket and the Royals took a 19-18 lead into the break.
San Marcos came out ready to play in the second half, forcing a five-second inbounds violation to open the third quarter. Isaiah Hicks was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three shots at the line to give San Marcos a four-point lead early in the third.
With 3:46 left in the third, Stephen Davis drove to the hole and threw up an acrobatic layup attempt that went in as he was fouled. The senior knocked down the free throw to give Santa Barbara a 25-24 lead.
Trailing 27-26 with 2:55 left, Condon went to work. He drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner to give San Marcos the lead, only to have the Dons take the lead right back on a triple from Johnson. Hicks knocked down a field goal before Condon converted an and-1 with 1:27 left in the third. He made the free throw and went on to spit a pair with 21 seconds left in the period to give San Marcos a 35-30 lead heading to the fourth.
Warrecker, who had a quiet 13 points Saturday night, converted a layup and was fouled with 7:17 left to cut the lead to two. Condon hit again on a corner three with 6:16 left to give the Royals a 38-33 lead.
Johnson hit a reverse layup before a layup by Davis trimmed the deficit to 38-37 with 5:30 left. A floater by Hicks gave San Marcos a 40-37 lead before the Dons were again in the bonus. Davis missed the first attempt on a pair of one-and-one opportunities late, but Warrecker was able to pull down the offensive board on the latter attempt. He made both from the line to give the Dons a 41-40 lead with 2:24 left.
With just over two minutes left, the Dons forced a missed, but as Warrecker was coming away with the rebound the ball was tipped away by Connolly. The ball eventually ended up in the hands of Condon, who used a cagey pass fake to rid his defender before knocking down the triple to give the Royals a 43-41 lead.
With 1:05 left, Hicks split a pair from the stripe to give his team a three-point lead. The Dons’ Erik Strandberg missed a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left, but the Royals were unable to take advantage on the other end. After the miss, Davis came away with the rebound and was fouled in the backcourt and went to the line for two. He missed the first but, after a San Marcos timeout, hit the second to make it 44-42 with 29 seconds remaining.
Connolly converted the front end of the one-and-one at the line to make it a three-point game, but missed the second. Johnson raced down the floor for a layup with eight seconds remaining but Santa Barbara was unable to complete the comeback.
The Dons made just 18 of their 29 free-throw attempts Saturday night, which coach Corey Adam said was the difference in the game.
“We missed 11 free throws, four front-end one-and-ones. That’s 15 points, what are you gonna do?” Adam said.
He said the team was trying to get Warrecker involved in the early going, but the Dons got out of sync and couldn’t consistently feed their big man.
“Credit to them, they took that away,” Adam said, adding that his team needs to learn to be more physical as the season continues.
The Dons will host Santa Ynez Tuesday, while San Marcos will host Lompoc.
“We still have a lot of league left,” Hicks said. “This is a good win, and we needed this win to at least get a share of the title, but we’ve still got to take care of business and finish out. I told our guys to enjoy this tonight, but tomorrow they’re back at it trying to get better.”