COSTA MESA — Though there was confusion at times as to whether either team could play any worse, it was clear which team wanted most to avoid the worst-case scenario Saturday night at Orange Coast College.
Ultimately, the host Pirates showed the greater resilience to claim a 57-50 triumph over Merced in the semifinals of the Thanksgiving Classic women's basketball tournament.
The victory propels OCC (4-1) into today's 4 p.m. championship game against Mt. San Jacinto (3-2).
Merced (4-2) missed its first 12 field-goal attempts and had one field goal in the first 11:07, allowing the Pirates to claim a 20-6 advantage. Eventually, OCC led, 28-16, with 2:56 left before intermission.
But then it was the Pirates who flexed their futility, going the next nine-plus minutes without a point and missing their first 11 second-half field-goal attempts. The Blue Devils cashed in to post a 19-0 run that gave them a 35-28 advantage.
"Generally, I consider the first five to seven minutes of the second half to be the most crucial time in a basketball game," Orange Coast Coach Mike Thornton said. "And we were really horrid for the first part of the second half. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
"If we would have come out and jumped on them again, I don't think they would have responded. But that's the difference between us and them. We responded really well after things went so badly for us. We called a timeout and [the OCC players] responded."
That response included a 22-7 run in which five Pirates scored. When sophomore Amanda Deal drained her second three-pointer of the blitz with 5:29 left, OCC had secured a 50-42 edge.
Merced, however, was not without one last response of its own as a three-pointer by Kenyatta Harper with 1:26 left pulled the Blue Devils within 51-48.
But Deal netted a three-pointer with 1:13 left and OCC held on to earn its third straight win.
"One of my assistants [Steve Popovich] said afterward that he didn't know what caused us to get through that [early second-half] stretch in which nothing went right," Thornton said. "But we did get through it. I think pretty much everybody on the roster helped pull us through. We have a really together team."
A zone defense helped OCC put together a dominant stretch at the outset, as Merced was, at varying points, two for 22 and five for 36 from the field. The Blue Devils finished seven for 38 in the first half (18.4%).
OCC made just seven of 27 from the field before the break (25.9%) and finished at 29.9% from the field for the game (17 of 61, including eight of 32 from three-point range).
Merced shot 44.8% in the second half (13 for 29), but finished just three of 18 from threedom.
The Blue Devils posted a 55-45 rebounding advantage, including 22 offensive boards, but had 14 turnovers to the Pirates' 10.
OCC sophomore Samantha Hansen led the Pirates with 15 points and 12 rebounds, doing most of her damage at the free-throw line. She made eight of 10 foul shots, while adding two assists, two blocks and one steal in 26 minutes.
Deal had 12 points and four rebounds, while freshman Sami Little chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Linda Murray, a 6-foot-2 sophomore center, amassed 19 rebounds and 13 points for the Blue Devils, making half of her 10 field-goal tries, all within arms-length of the goal.
"These are good kids who are going to play really hard for us all the time," Thornton said. "These are the kind of kids I like to coach."
Orange Coast 57, Merced 50
Merced – Harper 11, Morris 9, Murray 13, Clayborne 9, Grayson 3, Brown, 3, Shaw 2.
3-pt. goals – Harper 1, Clayborne 1, Grayson 1.
Fouled out – Murray.
Technicals – None.
OCC – Hansen 15, Vingerelli 0, Deal 12, Yamasaki 5, Hanson 5, Little 10, Pikula 7, Robel 3.
3-pt. goals – Deal 3, Little 2, Hansen 1, Yamasaki 1, Robel 1.
Fouled out – None.
Technicals – None.
Halftime – OCC, 28-20.