Showing the resilience of a mature basketball team, the Pirates outlasted a tenacious Cypress College squad 68-53 Friday in the semifinals of the VC-Kiwanis Tournament of Champions at the Athletic Event Center. In a game that was much closer than the final score would indicate, VC handled the Chargers all-out defensive pressure for the full 40 minutes to move to their 13th straight ToC finals appearance. Talia Taufaasau filled the stat sheet with 19 points, six assists, five rebounds, two blocks and a steal while Cece Quintino did the same with 11 points, eight dimes, six boards, three steals and two blocks.
Cypress put tremendous defensive pressure in the full court from the start, and they held a 5-0 lead before Taufaasau assisted a short jumper by Kast to get Ventura on the board. Alaina Garcia hit a three with an assist by Quintino at the 4:04 mark of the opening period to give VC its first lead of the game, 8-10. Nikki Puga had a triple to put the Pirates ahead 14-11 and Taufaasau hit a jumper at the buzzer to give VC a 16-14 edge at the quarter break. Yasmine Ahllamara assisted Puga's next 3-pointer for a 19-14 lead before the Chargers tied things at 19 with 8:51 left in the half. Kast made a pair of charity tosses and Taufaasau hit consecutive three's as Ventura held a 29-25 lead at halftime.
The Pirates caught fire in the third quarter, scoring on five of their first seven possessions to seemingly break the game open. Maciel hit for three from the left side on the first trip down the floor, and Merriweather scored inside one trip later. Taufaasau and Kast followed with back-to- back three's and Ventura led 40-28 in just over two minutes into the stanza. VC could not sustain the run, and Cypress closed back to within 42-36 a minute later. Quintino's make off a ball pick, and Taufaasau's two free throws stretched the lead back to 10, 46-36, with 3:20 on the clock, but the Chargers kept coming. They halved the lead almost instantly, but Quintino was able to turn back the wave with another three. Ventura led 49-44 after three periods of play.
The Chargers had one final run to begin the final period. They closed to within two points on two occasions, 51-49 and 53-51 before the Pirates finally put them away. Pooler assisted a Kast field goal at the 6:18 mark to begin a 15-2 run to end the game. Kast followed with an old-fashioned 3-point play, then Maciel scored from range and on a runner inside the paint.Taufaasau and Quintino ended the game with free throws as VC pulled away for the 68-53 victory.
Other games Friday in the Tournament of Champions included Canyons over Taft, 122-38, Santa Monica over Laney, 101-42, and Mt. San Antonio with a comeback win over Long Beach, 62-54.
On the final day of the tournament, Laney will face off with taft at 9:00 am, followed by Canyons and Santa Monica at 11:00 am. Long Beach and Cypress will play at 1:00 pm for third place and VC and Mt. SAC will meet for the 13th time i tournament history in Saturday's championship game, Tip-off is scheduled for 3:00 pm in the Athletic Event Center.