The Ventura College women's basketball team built a 20-point lead with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter, then held off a furious charge by Irvine Valley in the fourth to post a 70-67 victory in the CCCAA Southern California Regional Finals Saturday night at the Athletic Event Center. The win advances the No. 3-seeded Pirates (21-7) to the program's state-record 19th State Elite Eight next weekend in Lemoore. Cece Quintino had a season-best 20 points and Talia Taufaasau recorded 16 points to send VC to the state tournament for the third time in the past four seasons.
Quintino added six assists and two steals to her stat line and Taufaasau dropped eight dimes in the game. Madison Kast scored nine points with a team-high 10 boards while Victoria Maciel netted seven points. Emma Larson hit a pair of big three's and Kimora Pooler pulled down eight rebounds and had four blocked shots.
There were four lead changes in the first eight minutes of play before Quintino hit a mid-range jumper at the 2:06 mark of the opening period for a 14-13 Pirate advantage. Taufaasau followed with a lay-up and, after an IVC free throw, Quintino scored again. Kast finished the quarter with an old-fashioned 3-point play and Ventura led the sixth-seeded Lasers 21-14 after 10 minutes of play.
VC continued to shoot the ball well in the second stanza, keeping Irvine at arms-length. The Pirates answered every Laser score, and Pooler's offensive rebound and putback at the 7:11 mark made the score 29-21. Alaina Garcia made one of two free throws and Kast scored inside to extend the lead to double-figures, but IVC came back with another of 3-pointer to keep things close. Larson answered by cashing in a Taufaasau dime for three, and Taufaasau had a lay-up to make it a 13-point game, 37-24, with 1:32 left in the half. After two Irvine charity shots, Maciel hit from range and Taufaasau closed the period with a drive and score for a 42-29 halftime lead for the Pirates.
Ventura continued to slowly pull away in the third period, but the Lasers maintained their puncher's chance by continuing to hit from beyond the arc. Quintino opened the scoring to extend the advantage to 15 points, but IVC answered with a pair of long-range bombs to cut the lead back to single-digits at the 5:23 mark. VC then went on an 11-0 run over the next three-plus minutes to fully take control. Quintino hit a three off a Taufaasau helper and Kast scored inside off a Quintino pass. Larson assisted a Quintino deuce and Taufaasau scored on a short jumper after a steal by LaDaesha Merriweather. Maciel then scored with help from Quintino and the Pirates led 55-35 at the 1:43 mark of the quarter. Taufaasau answered a Laser three with a bucket, and Irvine Valley hit another 3-pointer in the last minute for a 57-41 VC lead at the quarter break.
Irvine Valley, who made 13 3-pointers in the game, continued their comeback bid from beyond the arc early in the final period. They sandwiched a pair of three's around a deuce by Taufaasau to pull to within 12 points less than a minute in. Garcia turned the tide with a three-pointer from the right side off a Madison Kast assist with 9:03 remaining, and Larson's second big three came with 5:55 on the clock to maintain the 15-point margin, 65-50. IVC threw everything they had at the Pirates at that point, closing the game on a 17-5 run. After a three and a pair of inside scored by Irvine, Taufaasau scored a lay-up with 3:58 left to take the lead back to 10, 67-57. Kast scored a lay-up with an assist by Taufaasau and the lead was a seemingly safe 12 points with 2:38 on the clock. But Irvine kept up the pressure cutting the lead to four points, 69-65, before Quintino made one of two free throws for a 70-65 lead. The Pirate defense held fast in the closing moments, withstanding six missed long-range shots by the Lasers before IVC converted an offensive rebound for two at the buzzer to set the final 70-67 score.
Ventura advances to the program's state-record 19th CCCAA State Elite Eight. They are the No. 3 seed from Southern California and will face North No. 2 Diablo Valley at 3:00 pm on Thursday March 12 at West Hills College-Lemoore. The pairing is a rematch of last year's state quarterfinal in which the Pirates took the eventual state champions to the limit before falling 57-55. Webcast information will will be forthcoming, and fans can always follow the game on the Pirates' twitter page @VCwbbWPH.