Behind a dominant 17-point fourth quarter performance from freshman Talia Taufaasau, the Ventura College women's basketball team battled back from a 10-point first half deficit to claim a 73-62 victory over Mt. San Jacinto in the championship game of the VC-Optimist Club Holiday Tournament Sunday at the Athletic Event Center. VC (13-6) trailed the defending state champions 50-46 heading into the final period before Taufaasau earned MVP honors by leading the comeback for Ventura.
All-tournament honoree Cece Quintino had 20 points, 14 in the first half, eight assists and five rebounds while Madison Cvijanovich provided spark off the bench once again with 14 points and five boards. LaDaesha Merriweather pulled in seven rebounds. The Pirates committed just six turnovers in the game, including one in the final 20 minutes of play.
Things did not look good early for the Pirates as the Eagles jumped out to an 8-0 lead barely two minutes into the contest. Taufaasau hit a runner, then assisted a three by Quintino and Ventura was back in business, but they still trailed MSJC. The Eagles scored the next eight points for a 10-point cushion, 15-5, with 5:48 left in the quarter beforeVictoria Maciel connected on a sweet reverse lay-up off a Quintino dime, and Cvijanovich rolled in a lay-up for a 17-13 deficit. Mt. San Jacinto ended the stanza with a 6-1 run to hold a 23-14 lead at the quarter break.
Quintino kept the Pirates close in the second quarter, beginning with a bucket and two charity tosses to close the gap, once again. MSJC responded in kind, and seemed to have an answer throughout the period for every Pirate mini-run. Robin Prince hit a pair of big buckets in the period, one off a Cvijanovich assists and another from a Quintino pass, and Cvijanovich nailed a three-ball from the left corner with 2:21 left in the half to close the gap to 33-30. The Eagles answered with their own long-range bomb, but unfazed, Cvijanovich hit again from range. MSJC closed the half with another three and VC trailed 39-33 a intermission.
The Pirates kept pace in the third quarter with Taufaasau netting a pair of field goals and Cvijanovich converting two free shots. With both teams struggling offensively, the Eagles seemed poised to pull away by extending their advantage back to seven, 46-39, at the 7:03 mark when Maciel nailed a three off a Taufaasau helper. Two minutes later the lead was back to five when Cvijanovich hit another bomb from the left corner, and was fouled on the play, converting the free throw for the 4-point play. Ventura then trailed by a single point, 47-46, with 4:08 left in the period. Ventura could not capitalize on the momentum, however, and MSJC led 50-46 at the end of three.
Ventura closed the gap quickly in the final stanza with a Merriweather lay-up form a Quintino assist and a triple from Taufaasau giving the Pirates their first lead of the game, 51-50. Mt. San Jacinto had one more answer, retaking the lead with five straight points, holding a 55-51 advantage with 8:00 left to play. Ventura then went on a decisive 10-0 run, with Taufaasau controlling almost everything offensively down the stretch. The run began with another Quintino assist to Merriweather, then a Quintino jumper off a Taufaasau dime for a tie game. Taufaasau masterfully sliced the Eagle defense for a lay-up at he 5:45 mark for a 57-55 Pirate advantage, and Quintino followed with a lay-up on the next possession after a Taufaasau steal. Talia then made a pair of free throws to end the run for a 61-55 lead.
Mt. San Jacinto countered with a made 3-pointer, but Taufaasau, completely in control of the game, hit a step back three behind a screen with 2:59 remaining for the answer for VC. Taufaasau then made five of six free throws and another lay-up down the stretch as the Pirates claimed the 73-62 victory for their first tournament title since winning the Optimist Tournament in 2016.
Ventura heads to 2019 on a healthy three-game winning streak with signs of improvement showing through. They will host the first round of the SoCal Crossover Tournament on Saturday Jan. 5, facing West Los Angeles College at 6:00 pm at the Athletic Event Center.
The Pirates celebrate the championship in the VC-Optimist Club Holiday Tournament with members of the East Ventura Optimist Club.