The Pirates women's basketball team trailed 38-27 with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter before staging a second half comeback, defeating College of the Sequoias 56-53 Friday night in the semifinals of the Tom Gilcrest Invitational in Visalia. Talia Taufaasau had nine second half points, and Alyssandra Lacanilao provided a spark off the bench with eight points in the fourth quarter to lead the charge. LaDaesha Merriweather owned the boards with 13 rebounds for the VC (8-0).
For the second night in a row, Ventura held the upper hand in the opening quarter. Cece Quintino sandwiched a pair of jumpers around a 3-pointer by Taufaasau for an 8-3 advantage midway through the opening period. Kimora Pooler hit a deuce inside, and Yasmine Ahllamara hit for three and the Pirates led the Giants 13-5 at the 3:52 mark. COS, who came into the game with a 7-1 record, pulled back to within three points before Madison Kast closed the quarter with a bucket for an 18-13 VC lead.
It took Ventura over four minutes to find the bottom of the net in the second quarter, but Sequoias found the offensive end difficult as well. Kast had a 3-point play with 5:55 on the clock to make it 21-17, but that would be the last Pirate score for nearly four more minutes. In that time, COS went on a 10-0 run to take a 27-21 advantage before Quintino cashed in Victoria Maciel's assist for a triple. Kast made a lay-up, and Sequoias countered with a basket and VC trailed 29-26 at halftime.
The Giants outscored the Pirates 8-1 to open the second half, building an 11-point advantage with 5:41 remaining in the period. Taufaasau hit a jumper to end the skid, and followed it up with an old-fashioned 3-point play to close the gap to six, 38-32. Lacanilao then assisted a lay-up by Pooler, and Taufaasau hit two more charity shots to make it a two-point game. After a COS free throw, Pooler hit inside again to make it 39-38 at the end of the quarter.
Sequoias began the final stanza with a 6-0 run to stretch the lead back to seven, 45-38, with 8:08 remaining before the Pirates started their final comeback. Lacanilao was fouled on a 3-point attempt on the next possession and calmly made all three free shots to close the gap to four. After a pair of Giant free throws, Lacanilao hit a sweet reverse lay-up, then nailed a huge shot from behind the arc to pull VC to within one, 47-46. Taufaasau connected for two more charity tosses to give the Pirates the lead, and Ahllamara was fouled on a lay-up, completing a 3-point play for a 51-47 advantage with 4:27 on the clock. Ventura had an answer for every score by Sequoias down the stretch and the Pirates pulled out the 56-53 victory.
Ventura advanced to the Gilcrest Invitational final with their first victory over Sequoias in their last four tries, all in the tournament semifinals. VC committed a season-high 28 turnovers, but dominated on the glass with a 46-19 rebound margin.
Taufaasau totaled 13 points in the game with six rebounds and three assists. Kast had 10 points, nine in the first half, and five rebounds while Quintino also hit double-figures with 10 points. Pooler totaled eight points with five boards.
VC will play Mt. San Antonio for the second time in two weeks in the tournament championship game. The Pirates and Mounties tip off at 4:00 pm on Saturday Dec. 7 at Porter Field House in Visalia.