COSTA MESA — This just might be the Orange Coast College women's basketball team that helps Coach Mike Thornton reach the 500-victory plateau. If it doesn't kill him first.
Freshman reserve Sami Little nailed a three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime and the pulsating Pirates went on to claim a 62-61 triumph in the quarterfinals of the Southern California Regional playoffs Wednesday at OCC.
OCC (24-8), the No. 5 seed in the regional, will play host to No. 9-seeded Cypress in Saturday's semifinals at 7 p.m. Cypress (20-10) upset top-seeded Fullerton, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, 61-57, in overtime Wednesday.
Sophomore Alyssa Hanson sank the first of two free throws with five seconds left in overtime, then stole the ball in the backcourt on Riverside's ensuing possession to clinch the Pirates' sixth one-point victory of the season. Included in the single-point victims were Riverside and Cypress (twice each).
"Somebody is living right in this program and it's definitely not me," said Thornton, who is 499-218 in his 22 seasons at the helm. "We're 6-1 in one-point games this season and that was our fourth overtime win. It has been an incredible journey to say the least."
Sophomore Samantha Hansen paced the Pirates with 25 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots. She made a three-point play with 1:01 left in overtime to give the hosts a 60-58 advantage.
Little made the first of two foul shots with 20 seconds left, but Riverside's Heather Wohlk drained a three-pointer with 10 seconds left to knot the score once again.
Hanson was fouled near the free-throw line on the ensuing possession and, like one of several Pirates throughout the campaign, she came through when it mattered most.
"I guess it has been consistent and happened so many times, you can't say we're just fortunate," said Thornton, who was still quivering with adrenaline several moments after the final buzzer. "We have people who make big plays."
Hansen, a 6-foot first-team All-Orange Empire Conference forward, made the most big plays for the winners. She made six of her eight first-half field-goal attempts and made her final four field-goal tries of regulation. She was 11 for 18 from the field, despite being the target of defensive focus that included constant double-teams.
"We went to her inside early," Thornton said. "Last time [Riverside] doubled her and it was pretty effective [in a 68-45 Riverside home win in the regular-season finale]. I thought she handled the double-team pretty well tonight."
Little finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, and sank her final two three-point attempts, including OCC's first points of the overtime with 2:25 left in the five-minute session that gave the Pirates a 54-53 lead.
Hanson, another first-team all-conference performer, had eight points and nine assists to help OCC bring Thornton within one win of a milestone.
"We call ourselves the comeback kids, just because we've had so many close games and so many miracle shots," said Little, who sank a three-pointer late in regulation to help OCC earn an earlier overtime win against conference rival Irvine Valley. "Everybody is just so into the game. It's just a heart that we all share and its just fun to be out there with a group of girls like this."
Little's three-pointer to force overtime came seconds after she misfired from beyond the arc. But freshman Tessie Pikula rebounded and passed back out to Little, who didn't waste the second chance.
"[Pikula] got a huge rebound, then got the ball back out to Sami," Thornton said.
OCC had 23 turnovers, two more than the Tigers, who won the rebounding battle, 49-43, including 22 offensive boards.
OCC attempted no free throws in the first half and went 9:35 without a field goal spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second.
Riverside closed the first half with a 9-0 run to create a 33-29 cushion, but missed 11 of its first 12 field-goal attempts after intermission as OCC regained a 38-35 lead.
Southern California Regional Quarterfinal
Orange Coast 62, Riverside 61 (OT)
RCC — Byrd 8, Castanon 2, Wohlk 15, Marreon 12, Shanks 10, Hunter 6, Sinclair 3, Cook 3, Natividad 2.
3-pt. goals – Wohlk 3, Marreon 2, Shanks 1, Hunter 1, Sinclair 1, Cook 1.
Fouled out – None.
OCC — Hansen 25, Vingerelli 4, Hanson 8, Deal 6, Yamasaki 0, Little 15, Robel 4.
3-pt. goals – Little 3, Deal 2, Hanson 1.
Halftime – RCC, 33-29.