In a knock-down, drag-out physical contest, the Pirates' women's basketball team earned a passing grade Saturday, defeating Mt. San Antonio 44-40 to capture the title of the VC-Kiwanis Tournament of Champions. Madison Kast earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors with 19 points and six rebounds while All-Tournament selection Talia Taufaasau netted seven points with three assists. Kimora Pooler contributed eight points and six boards and LaDaesha Merriweather pulled in 10 rebounds for the Pirates (6-0).
The teams battled from the opening tip as it took over three minutes for Pooler to hit the game's first bucket. Mt. SAC made their first basket at the 5:14 mark of the opening period to take a 3-2 lead. Pooler followed on the next possession with another score and Kast scored on the inside two minutes later. Pooler's lay-up with 1:24 on the clock gave Ventura an 8-7 lead at the end of the first period.
The defensive battle continued into the second period as Ventura managed but two Cece Quintino free throws in the first half of the stanza. The Mounties tied the score at 10-10 with 9:14 remaining, and the score remained unchanged for the next four minutes. Mt. SAC took a 12-10 advantage at the 5:13 mark before Pooler immediately knotted the score with a short jumper. Kast took over from there, scoring the Pirates' next eight points. She scored on an old-fashioned 3-point play, and also hit from range for a 18-12 lead. After a mountie charity shot, Kast took a Taufaasau pass and turned it into a deuce. Alyssandra Lacanilao hit two free throws, and Kast made a pair of charity tosses for a 24-14 Pirate lead at halftime.
The difficult offensive conditions persisted into the second half as both teams remained on lockdown defensively. Victoria Maciel hit a jumper for the Pirates to give them their largest lead of the day, 28-16, with 6:34 remaining in the third period. The teams went scoreless for the next four minutes. The Mounties broke the skid with a field goal at the 2:22 mark, and Kast was able to answer on the next possession for Ventura. The teams traded scores for the remainder of the period and the Pirates led 33-23 headed to the fourth.
The Mounties made some runs at the Pirates down the stretch, but each time Ventura was able to get a key play to stay in front. Mt. SAC pulled to within five, 33-28, at the 7:40 mark, but Taufaasau's key bucket turned back the threat. Kast made a 3-pointer with an assist by Taufaasau to stretch the lead to 38-29 with 5:13 remaining, and Maciel hit a crucial field goal when Mt. SAC had pulled to within 38-33 with 2:22 on the clock. Taufaasau was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line in the final minute to secure the victory.
The win was a total team effort as the Pirates were able to shut down Mt. SAC offensively. Lacanilao and Yasmine Ahllamara gave excellent support defensively for VC and Emma Larson also had a nice floor game.
The tournament championship is VC's seventh in the 22-year history of the event, and their first three-game sweep since 2013. VC moves to 6-0 on the young season, their best start since the 2011-12 season.
The Pirates get a break for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday before traveling to the annual Tom Gilcrest Invitational at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia Dec. 5-7.