IRVINE — It was fitting that after its 49-46 overtime victory over Grossmont on Thursday that the Orange Coast College women's basketball team ducked into a classroom outside the Irvine Valley College gym for a brief tutorial from veteran coach Mike Thornton.
It may, in fact take enough basketball instruction to fill a three-ring binder to limit the times when the inexperienced Pirates resemble a three-ring circus on the floor.
"It's been a struggle," said Thornton, whose team improved to 5-4 and advanced to the championship semifinals of the IVC Tournament Friday at 5 p.m. against Chaffey. "If we win very many games, they are all probably going to be ugly wins like this one. For the most part, we're going to have to keep it close and make plays at the end of games. So far, four of our five wins have been by four points and the other was by three. I tell my players that we're not a blue-collar team, we're a black-collar team. We have to go after everything."
The Pirates' primary struggles this season have come on the offensive end. Thursday was no different. They shot 29.4% from the field (20 for 68), were five of 26 from three-point range (19.2%) and an abysmal 26.7% from the foul line (four of 15) against the Griffins (3-8).
Sophomore Ashley Engeln had made just one field-goal attempt in the first 36-plus minutes, but proved to be the Pirates' offensive catalyst down the stretch.
Engeln, a bounce-back from Johnson & Wales University, an NAIA school in Denver, scored eight of OCC's final 10 points in regulation, including her only two three-pointers, to help the Pirates erase a 39-33 deficit with 4:00 left in the second half.
Engeln, whose twin sister Lauren is a sophomore forward at UConn, sank a three-pointer from the left wing with 20 seconds left that put OCC up, 43-41. Engeln then came up with a steal on the ensuing possession and, after a subsequent inbound play, went to the line for a one-and-one with 12 seconds left.
She missed and Grossmont knotted the score on Shateara Anderson's layup with four seconds left.
Engeln, who has the best basketball IQ of any OCC player, Thornton said, scored the final four points of overtime, her final bucket a spinning 10-footer in the lane with 1:48 left, to help OCC prevail.
But the victory did not come without some head-scratching by Thornton, who watched his players twice foul Griffins in the final seven seconds.
Grossmont's Sam Silva missed the front end of a one-and-one with seven seconds left, but teammate Andrea Bird snagged the rebound and was fouled while shooting with four seconds remaining. Bird missed both foul shots (making Grossmont 1 for 11 for the game), and OCC survived its own missed free throw with three seconds left when Stevi Cooper's prayer from near half court went unanswered.
OCC virtually gave away a Dec. 2 tournament game in double-overtime against Barstow when a Pirates player mistakenly fouled intentionally in the final seconds of a tie game, erroneously thinking her team was trailing at the time.
Engeln finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four steals. But she was just six of 21 from the field and two of nine from threedom.
Freshman Jenna Arnett had 15 rebounds, seven points, two assists, two blocks and two steals for OCC, which led, 12-1, and used a 10-0 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to forge a 28-19 advantage.
OCC had 19 turnovers, but benefited from 28 by the Griffins, who shot a mere 34.5% from the field (19 of 55).
OCC posted a 50-48 rebounding advantage.
The Pirates played without sophomore Tessie Pikula (torn ligaments in her right thumb), and starter Megan Hanson was sidelined late in Thursday's game after crumpling in the lane following a collision. Thornton, who has 504 career wins in 22-plus seasons at OCC, said Pikula would be out perhaps another month. He does not expect Hanson to play again in the tournament, which continues through Saturday.
Orange Coast 49, Grossmont 46 (OT)
OCC – Ali 7, Arnett 7, Engeln 14, Terukina 3, Hanson 0, Angel 7, Bartel 5, Madrigal 3, Maldonado 2, Wilson 1.
3-pt. goals – Engeln 2, Terukina 1, Angel 1, Madrigal 1.
Fouled out – None.
Gros – Anderson 14, Harris 6, King 12, Limbo 0, Cooper 0, Silva 14.
3-pt. goals – Silva 4, King 2, Anderson 1.
Fouled out – None.
Halftime – 21-19, OCC.