Saturday night’s Ventura College-Oxnard basketball game was strangely reminiscent of the old Popeye cartoons.
There was host Ventura, one of the state’s top-ranked teams and winner of 21 of 25 games, reeling from a first-half beating at the hands of Oxnard, which few would list among the Brutuses of the Western State Conference.
But Ventura Coach Phil Mathews must have popped open the cans of spinach at halftime, because the Pirates came out and pounded Oxnard into submission, emerging with an 83-66 WSC Northern Division victory.
“The first half, everything was going their way,” Mathews said. “I told my players we had to get the ball into Lester, and we did.”
That would be Lester Neal, who took over the game in the second half, scoring 16 of his game-high 26 points. Neal also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots.
“He’s the best player in the state,” Oxnard Coach Remy McCarthy said.
Neal and Ventura (22-4 overall, 2-0 in the WSC Northern Division) struggled in the first half, however.
The patient Condors (12-11, 1-1) dictated the early tempo and built a 24-16 first-half advantage while forcing Neal to miss seven of 12 shots. But Neal and guard Uba Satterfield led a late charge, combining to score Ventura’s last 14 points and pulling the Pirates into a 32-32 tie at intermission.
A revitalized Pirate team came out and assumed command of the game in the second half, rolling to a 59-44 advantage. Ventura outrebounded Oxnard, 28-11, in the second half and 50-25 for the game.
But Oxnard made one last run as Shawn Talley (a team-high 20 points) sank three three-point baskets, Don Mitchell added a pair of jumpers, and Tim Thomas canned a jump shot to cut Ventura’s lead to 63-59 with seven minutes to play.
Neal and Satterfield (23 points, five three-point baskets, eight rebounds) took over from there, leading a 16-0 Pirate run.
“I always get worried when I play Oxnard,” Mathews said. “No matter what our records are, it’s always an intense rivalry. We could be both be 0-28 and it would be a game like this.”
Ventura got 11 points and a game-high 16 rebounds from Calvin Curry, and DiJon Barnard added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Andy Beltowski had 14 points for Oxnard.