SANTA ANA — Mike Thornton retired from teaching a few years ago, but he still delivers lessons as quickly and quantitatively as any professor still commanding a classroom.
Rather than use a blackboard and an overhead projector, the 25th-year coach of the Orange Coast College women's basketball team relies, these days, on a clipboard and voice projection to tutor his uniformed pupils.
And as Wednesday night's painstakingly earned 71-62 win over Orange Empire Conference host Santa Ana proved to anyone within earshot of Thornton and his staff of assistants, these Pirates are far from advanced when it comes to on-court intelligence.
Thornton continually cajoled, directed, chastised and coaxed his players into proper position and/or execution, though there were plenty of times when their decision-making resulted in the kind of frustration only parents usually have to endure.
"My goal this year was to be calm," said Thornton, still mildly shaking from accumulated stress and adrenaline just moments after the Pirates improved to 11-9, 2-2 in conference and halted a two-game losing skid. "But I'm not making my goal."
Thornton was happy to receive alternating sensational halves from his two forwards, sophomore Raechelle Davis (first 20 minutes) and freshman Jasmine Matar (second 20 minutes), who came up big to drop the Dons, coached by former OCC standout Flo Luppani, to 11-9, 1-3.
Davis collected 15 points and 13 rebounds to help OCC claim a 34-24 halftime advantage, She finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds, made eight of 12 field-goal attempts and all five of her foul shots. She added two blocked shots and a steal.
Davis is now averaging 15.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and shooting 62.8% from the field in four conference games this season.
"Raechelle had a phenomenal first half," Thornton said of his emerging standout.
Matar, who had a career-high 21 points in Saturday's home loss to Saddleback, had 17 of her 21 points and five of her seven rebounds after intermission, while collecting a team-best five steals.
The duo made seemingly big shot after big shot in the half-court offense, on transition, or, in Matar's case, even breaking down the defense with improvisation to help the visitors prevail.
OCC had a 55-40 cushion with 5:48 remaining, but saw the Dons pare the deficit to 63-57 with 2:13 left. But the Pirates made seven of 11 foul shots in the final 2:16 and managed to follow Thornton's instructions effectively enough to hold on.
OCC was 22 for 31 from the free-throw line and shot 54.5% from the field in the second half to finish at 44.4% for the game.
Santa Ana, which was 10 for 10 from the foul line and forced 22 turnovers, two more than it committed, finished at 36.9% from the field and lost the rebounding battle, 42-32.
OCC received 16 points from sophomore Dayanara Armenta and also had 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists from sophomore Chanelle DiCroce.
Santa Ana had 21 points each from Jazmine Johnson and Ashley Whisler.
"We knew this game would be competitive because [the Dons] fight like crazy and we seem to have a little [rivalry] thing going with these guys," Thornton said. "So, it was a nice win. We needed that one really badly."
Orange Empire Conference
Orange Coast 71, Santa Ana 62
OCC – Davis 21, Matar 21, Armenta 16, DiCroce 10, Bunting 2 Johnson 1.
3-pt. goals – Armenta 1.
Fouled out – Armenta.
Technicals – None.
SAC – Johnson 21, Ducat 4, Whisler 21, Lopez 5, Smit 4, Tran 4, Maugaotega 3.
3-pt. goals – Whisler 2, Lopez 1, Maugaotega 1.
Fouled out – Johnson.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – OCC, 34-24.