COSTA MESA — Mike Thornton had a Saturday he won't soon forget.
Earlier in the day, the Orange Coast College women's basketball coach watched his daughter, Kelsey, with pride. Kelsey is a junior utility player on the San Clemente High girls' water polo team, which won the CIF Southern Section Division II title at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center with a victory over Santiago of Corona.
A few hours later, Thornton was back at OCC, trying to will his team to another important win.
He can thank Helena Robel for extending the Pirates' season.
The sophomore guard had a team-high 12 points, all in the second half, as the fifth-seeded Pirates ecked out a 48-44 victory over No. 12-seeded Southwestern in the second round of the Southern California Regional playoffs. OCC will play host to No. 13-seeded Riverside in a regional quarterfinal Wednesday night.
Robel, the team's fifth-leading scorer this season, came off the bench to lead the Pirates (23-8) in points on Saturday. She also had five rebounds, three assists, two steals and no turnovers in 26 minutes.
"She hasn't been a starter all season long, but she's given us a spark," Thornton said. "She's provided a couple of miracles for us all year long and she did it again tonight … You can't tell whether she's doing really well or not doing really well. She looks the same all the time, as opposed to me – I just keep turning redder and redder."
Robel came up with the big plays down the stretch, helping OCC past the second round for the first time since 2006, despite a season-low scoring output. Someone had to score with sophomore forward Samantha Hansen fouling out with 4:55 to play and OCC nursing a one-point lead. The Pirates' second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Amanda Deal, suffered through a one-for-nine shooting night and had just three points.
But Deal's three points were large. Robel drove the lane and found Deal for a corner three-pointer with 1:22 to play, giving OCC a 43-41 advantage.
Southwestern's Cymone Williams split a pair of free throws with 1:12 to go, but teammate Alexandria Dill grabbed the offensive rebound and scored to put the Jaguars (20-6) back up by one with 59 seconds left.
Robel wasn't done. Her three-pointer from the corner gave OCC a 46-44 advantage with 45 seconds left, then she drew a charge on Southwestern's Jasmine Bonds on the other end.
Pirates sophomore guard Alyssa Hanson made two free throws with 13 seconds left and Southwestern couldn't score again.
"We had a meeting right before [Hansen] came out," Robel said of the team's leading scorer and rebounder. "She came out and she was like, 'You guys got this.' She was trying to tell us we can still do it without her. We took it upon ourselves. We were like, 'We have to do this for her and for everyone else.' We weren't going to let her fouling out ruin our game."
Robel wasn't the only former Fountain Valley High star to come up big. Freshman guard Sami Little, another former Baron, had 11 points off the bench including three three-pointers. Hanson also scored 11 for the Pirates, who made just five of 27 shots in the first half (18.5%) and were down by five at halftime.
The Jaguars, who lost to OCC by 33 points when the teams met Dec. 30 in the Ventura Tournament, pushed their lead to 10 early in the second half before OCC rallied.
Thornton credited his team's good defense on Southwestern sophomore point guard Brittany Daniel, the Pacific Coast Conference MVP. Daniel scored a season-low six points on two-of-13 shooting, including no makes in eight three-point attempts. She appeared to injure her right knee on the same play on which Hansen fouled out, and Daniel did not return to the game.
Dill had nine points to lead the Jaguars, who made just two of 26 shots (7.7%) from threedom. The Jaguars missed all 19 of their three-point tries in the first game against OCC.
The Pirates, who are 5-1 in one-point games this season and undefeated in three overtime games, had enough in reserve to win another close one.
"We've had several miracle wins this year," Thornton said. "These kids have a lot of heart, and it showed tonight."
Seedings aside, Riverside will also provide a challenge. The Pirates have won two of three this season against Riverside, which upset No. 4 Cerritos in a second-round game Friday. But OCC was blown out, 68-49, at Riverside in the teams' regular-season finale Feb. 18.
"We're really excited to play them again," Robel said. "They showed us up last time and we weren't there at all. We're ready to come back and show them what we can really do."
Southern California Regional
Orange Coast 48, Southwest 44
SWC – Dill 9, Bonds 8, T. Williams 7, Daniel 6, C. Williams 5, Ward 3, Guerrero 2, Legall 2, Kirby 2.
3-pt. goals – T. Williams 1, Dill 1.
OCC – Robel 12, Little 11, Hanson 11, Hansen 7, Deal 3, Pikula 2, Vingerelli 2.
3-pt. goals – Little 3, Robel 1, Deal 1, Hanson 1.
Fouled out – Hansen.
Halftime – SWC, 21-16.