Behind solid performances by sophomores Davina Del Castillo and Celeste Salazar, the Pirates' women's basketball team claimed third place at the Tom Gilcrest Invitational with a 65-55 victory over Los Angeles Valley Sunday afternoon in Visalia. Del Castillo scored 19 points, including hitting four 3-pointers, with 12 rebounds and Salazar continued her stellar defensive play and handed out four assists with three boards. Both players were named to the all-tournament team.
While the Monarchs took the early 2-0 lead, Del Castillo's first 3-pointer of the evening gave the advantage to the Pirates on the next possession, beginning an 11-0 run for VC (7-3). Jasmyne Martin followed with a pull-up jumper, the Del Castillo hit twice more from range to give the Pirates an 11-2 edge halfway through the opening period. Kylie Vint hit a turn-around jumper off of Elissa Root's dime, and Nikki Puga nailed a 3-pointer in the final minute of the stanza and Ventura held a 16-11 advantage at the quarter break.
The Pirates pulled away from the Monarchs even more in the second quarter on the strength of the three-ball. Martin, Puga and Alaina Garcia all hit from behind the arc in the first four minutes of the period as Ventura opened up a 29-15 margin with 6:02 on the clock. Garcia connected on an old-fashioned 3-point play, and Del Castillo hit her fourth triple of the first half and the Pirates led 39-26 at intermission.
The Monarchs kept up the fight in the second half, but for every move they made, the Pirates had an answer. LAVC closed to within 10 points, 39-29, but a free throw by Salazar and two field goals from Talitha Draper opened up a 15-point lead for the Pirates, 44-29 with 5:51 on the clock.. Ventura went scoreless for the next three-plus minutes, but their defense held fast, only allowing a bucket and two charity tosses during that span. Puga connected for another trey with 2:31 remaining to end the skid, and two Martin free shots made it 49-38 at the end of three quarters.
The margin remained for the Pirates throughout the final 10 minutes of play. LA Valley's moves were almost immediately countered by VC and the game seemed to be in hand for the entirely of the final period. The Monarchs reduced the deficit to nine points at the 7:23 mark, 53-44, but the Pirates held LAVC without another score for three minutes before Del Castillo connected for an old-fashioned 3-point play. A 3-pointer from Valley at the 2:02 mark trimmed the Pirate lead to seven, 58-51, before Salazar hit a free shot and assisted a17-footer by Melissa Ohmie to stretch the lead back to double figures. The Pirates held on for the 10-point victory, 65-55.
Martin netted 15 points for VC in the win with seven boards while Puga hit three 3-pointers en route to 11 points. Vint came in with six points and four rebounds and Draper also pulled in four caroms.
The Pirates hit for a season-best nine 3-pointers in the game, connecting on 48 percent of their attempts from behind the arc (9-19).
The third place finish in the Gilcrest Invitational is the best for Ventura since claiming third in 2013.
The game was also VC head coach Ned Mircetic's 799th career win.
Ventura will next travel to the LAVC Buddy's All-Star Classic on Dec. 8-10 at Los Angeles Valley College. The Pirates open the 3-day, pre-determined schedule with LA Trade Tech on Friday Dec. 8 at 5:00 pm. They will also play San Bernardino Valley and Fullerton on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.