Playoff basketball is just different. With periods of agony and moments of ecstasy culminating in heartbreak or jubilation, the only appropriate mantra is survive and advance. The No. 3-seeded Pirates' women's basketball team experienced all of those emotions Saturday as they survived and advanced with a 73-62 victory over No. 19 Allan Hancock in the CCCAA Southern California Regional Semifinals at the Athletic Event Center. Talia Taufaasau had 15 points, Victoria Maciel scored 13, including three big 3-pointers, and Madison Kast netted 11 as VC (20-7) advanced to the State Sweet 16 for the 23rd time in the 30 year tenure of head coach Ned Mircetic.
The Bulldogs made the first of their 12 made 3-pointers on their first possession of the game, making their second a minute later. AHC held an 8-4 advantage midway through the first period before the Pirates got untracked. Cece Quintino made a lay-up at the 4:54 mark to begin a 10-1 Ventura run, and Taufaasau followed with a drive and score on the next trip down the floor. Taufaasau then assisted a three my Maciel and Ventura went ahead 11-8. The teams traded free throws before Kimora Pooler scored with 1:15 on the clock, and VC held a 14-9 lead at the end of the stanza.
Ventura added to the lead early in the second quarter on a lay-up by Kast from an assist by LaDaesha Merriweather, and they led 20-13 with 7:26 on the clock.The three's started raining in for Hancock at that point as they hit four straight from range over the next four minutes to hold a 25-22 margin. Taufaasau made a lay-up and a triple to hold off the Bulldog's momentum temporarily, but Hancock closed the period on a 7-0 run for a 32-27 halftime lead.
After the second quarter in which they were outscored 23-13, the Pirates came out strong in the third period. Kast scored on the first possession, and Taufaasau mad a lay-up to pull VC to within one, 32-31. Hancock responded, however, with a 4-point play, making a three while being fouled, and converting the free throw. After Maciel assisted a sweet reverse lay-up by Quintino, the Bulldogs then scored an old-fashioned 3-point play and held a 39-33 lead with 6:36 left in the quarter. Yasmine Ahllamara then hit a big triple to cut the deficit in half and Kast answered two Bulldog charity shots with an inside score to start another Pirate run. Quintino hit a pair of free shots to pull Ventura to within 41-40 before Emma Larson and Alaina Garcia each nailed shots from downtown to put the Pirates ahead 46-41 with 1:39 on the clock. AHC came back with another three, but Garcia answered with a drive and score for a 48-47 Pirate advantage at the quarter break.
Hancock kept up the fight into the final stanza, hitting another trey on their first possession for a 50-48 lead. Taufaasau evened things up with a jumper off Larson's dime, then Larson found Pooler for a lay-up as VC took the lead for good. Maciel and Larson each then connected from beyond the arc and Ventura led 58-50 with 5:23 left in the game. After a pair of Hancock free throws, Taufaasau found Quintino for another three and Kast answered a Bulldog triple with an inside score for an eight point spread at the 3:17 mark. The tenacity of the Bulldogs continued, however, as they hit yet another 3-pointer to stay in the game, but Maciel had one more answer, another make from range to maintain the spread, 66-58, with 2:31 remaining. Kast scored on 3-point play with 1:29 on the clock, giving the Pirates an 11-point edge that they maintained for the 73-62 final score.
Taufaasau added six rebounds, four assists and three blocks to her point total while Maciel had four boards. Quintino turned in nine points, five boards and eight dimes for the effort and Pooler had six points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. Merriweather added five caroms.
With the win, the Pirates surpass the 20-win plateau for the season, the 31st straight year they have achieved the milestone. The triumph also gives Mircetic a 71-22 career post-season record at VC.
Ventura moves on to the SoCal Regional Finals on Saturday March 7. The madness will continue when the No. 3-seeded Pirates will host No. 6 Irvine Valley College at 7:00 pm at the Athletic Event Center.