Some 23 games in, the Orange Coast College women's basketball team is pretty much on Coach Mike Thornton's last nerve. But after coming from behind to secure a 57-49 Orange Empire Conference triumph over visiting Irvine Valley on Wednesday, the Pirates are also perhaps just two crucial road victories from at least a share of the conference championship.
OCC, which missed 14 of its first 15 field-goal attempts had just three points for the first 9 minutes, 15 seconds of the game, and trailed, 22-10, with 5:37 left in the first half, improved to 14-9, 5-2 in conference.
The Pirates' win enabled them to move ahead of Cypress and into second place in the seven-team conference, one-half game behind Cypress (5-3), which lost to Fullerton on Wednesday, and one full game behind first-place Saddleback (6-1).
OCC visits Cypress on Friday at 5:30 p.m., before heading to Saddleback on Tuesday, also at 5:30 p.m.
"It's an interesting year to say the least," Thornton, in his 25th season at the helm, said after his team deployed a seldom-used man-to-man defensive scheme to help turn the tide against the Lasers. "I feel like we're more managers than coaches because we don't practice hard and we only play hard at times in games. But the good thing is, we're 5-2 in conference and the two losses, we could have won. So you can't really say, in terms of wins and losses, that we could be any better off. But at the same time, it's frustrating."
Though OCC, which had just three players score in the first half, was out-rebounded, 49-33, including 19 offensive rebounds for the Lasers, and shot only 64.7% from the free-throw line, had its share of poor production and, Thornton said, poor execution, it was the Lasers who experienced even more futility.
After sophomore Jasmine Kennon sank the Lasers' fifth three-pointer to create a 22-10 advantage with 8:21 left in the first half, Irvine Valley (15-10, 4-4), which had won four straight games, went 15:59 without a field goal. IVC did make three free throws during the stretch, which included an 18-0 OCC run to end the first half and begin the second.
Kennon, who led all scorers with 20, put back an offensive rebound to break the field-goal drought with 12:22 left in the game, by which time, OCC had fashioned a 38-25 advantage.
During the drought, IVC missed 11 consecutive field-goal attempts and committed 12 of its 20 turnovers.
The Lasers finished 16 for 55 from the field (29.1%), though it matched OCC by shooting 31.6% from three-point range (six for 19).
OCC fared somewhat better, shooting 35.1% from the field, including making 11 of 26 after intermission (42.3%). The Pirates committed 12 turnovers.
OCC sophomore Chanelle Di Croce was four for six from threedom on her way to a team-best 19 points. She also added eight rebounds, three steals and two assists.
"Chanelle had a phenomenal game," Thornton said of the 5-foot-9 guard, who made her team's final two field goals, including one traditional three-point play with 2:24 left that upped the Pirates' lead to 51-45.
IVC pulled within 51-49 with 1:58 left, and after OCC missed a shot on its subsequent possession, fired a three-pointer that could have given the visitors the lead with 1:19 left. But the shot missed and DiCroce penetrated directly down the center of the lane for a layup on clear-out play called by Thornton with 59 ticks remaining.
OCC, which has now won four straight, netted four of six foul shots in the final 45 seconds to pad the margin of victory.
Sophomore Raechelle Davis had 11 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots, while freshman Jasmine Matar was seven for 13 from the field on her way to 15 points. Matar had four steals and three assists, both of which led the winners.
OCC, which is down to eight available players, received one point from its bench.
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 57, Irvine Valley 49
IVC – Brennan 5, Casillas 2, Casey 13, Kennon 20, Patterson 0, Sneeden 4, Kato 3, Pagkalinawan 2.
3-pt. goals – Kennon 3, Brennan 1, Sneeden 1, Kato 1.
Fouled out – Kennon.
Technicals – None.
OCC – Matar 15, Davis 11, Di Croce 19, Armenta 8, Bunting 3, Dalton 1.
3-pt. goals – Di Croce 4, Dayanara 1, Bunting 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime, OCC, 24-22.