Step 1 of the three-step plan to dump some extra weight, namely their three opponents in the State championships, is safely in the bag for the Ventura College men's basketball team.
The Pirates cruised to a 95-80 victory over outmanned and outclassed Fresno City Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
The Pirates (35-1) will face Sequoias (27-7) in a semifinal game tonight at 8. The Giants shocked L.A. City, 74-73, in another quarterfinal game.
Ventura struggled with Sequoias in a 70-67 victory in the Hancock tournament in December. It was the smallest margin of victory for the Pirates this season.
Ventura, which has won five consecutive games, will be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the semifinals. The Pirates lost in the title game the past two years.
Ventura is the only team from the South still alive in the tournament. It is almost a complete reversal of last year's championships, when the four North schools were eliminated in the quarterfinals and Long Beach upset Ventura, 63-61, for the title.
The Rams (26-11) didn't hang around long enough to enjoy their first Final Eight since 1969.
"We overpowered them on the boards," Ventura Coach Philip Mathews said. "But we didn't play very well."
Ventura took a 10-5 lead but suddenly went cold and Fresno rallied for a 23-14 advantage with 9 minutes 52 seconds to play in the half. The Pirates failed to score for nearly five minutes before Curtis Ganes broke the ice with a layup.
That five-man unit, one of two rotated by Mathews during games, later gave the Pirates the boost they were looking for with some inspired play in the opening moments of the second half.
"They had to do something to redeem themselves," Mathews said.
The Pirates put on 13-6 surge in the final minutes to take a 43-36 halftime lead.
Hakeem Ward sparked the rally with five points, the last three on an acrobatic layup which led to a three-point play.
Ventura went on an 11-4 run to open the second half to pull away.
Ward and Ganes each scored 15 points for Ventura.