Moorpark grinds out 73-68 win over tough-minded Merced to gain CCCAA Championship berth

(1S) Moorpark 66, (4N) College of the Sequoias 58
CCCAA Women's Basketball Championships (quarterfinals)
Ventura College ? March 15	
Photo by Mike Baker
(1S) Moorpark 66, (4N) College of the Sequoias 58 CCCAA Women's Basketball Championships (quarterfinals) Ventura College ? March 15 Photo by Mike Baker

CCCAA Basketball Championship Tournament Central
(live video, live stats, recaps, photos)

VENTURA – The Moorpark Raiders emerged victorious after a thrilling semifinal against a tenacious Merced Blue Devils team, setting up a showdown with the Diablo Valley Vikings for the CCCAA Women's Basketball Championship on Sunday afternoon at Ventura College. Both teams entered the state tournament as the top seeds in their respective regions and are a combined 63-2.

The back-and-forth semifinal had a total of 11 lead changes, with Merced rallying from as much as a 12-point deficit to keep Moorpark within reach.  Breanna Calhoun was the star of the game, netting a game high 33 points for the Raiders and adding seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.  She was backed up by a double-double from post player Barbara Rangel, who had 21 points and a game high 15 boards.

Merced looked to continue their success with a speedy offense as they hit a layup six seconds after winning the opening tip but the Blue Devils fell quiet with eight missed shots and two turnovers over the next five minutes while Moorpark racked up a 14-2 lead.  Ayaka Nakashima got her team back into it with a three-pointer, and then hit three free throws after drawing a foul while attempting another three on the next Merced possession.  After 10 minutes it was a 20-15 score in favor of Moorpark.

In the second quarter, it was Moorpark's turn to cool off, missing their first seven shots and conceding three turnovers, but Merced was only able to pull ahead by one point, shooting 3 for 11 from the field in the first five minutes of the period. After trading baskets with Moorpark for the rest of the quick quarter — there were only two fouls called in the period and neither team went to the free throw line —  Merced extended their first quarter lead by a point, leading 37-31 at the half.

In the third, the Raiders extended their lead to 12 points again, leading 48-36 a few minutes in.  Merced called a timeout, regrouped, and then Nakashima hit back-to-back three pointers to spark a rally that saw her team tie the game at 48 at the 3:26 mark.  The Blue Devils briefly pulled ahead after Ashley Hansen banked in another three, but Barbara Rangel immediately countered with a layup to put Moorpark back on top by a point at the third break. 

Merced had some momentum in the middle of the final frame, eventually pulling ahead of Moorpark by three points before running into a four-minute scoring drought that saw the Raiders regain the lead again.  Jada Johnson managed to tie the game at 68, making her free throw after being fouled on a layup that scored.  Moorpark's Isabel Ayala hit a layup with 34 seconds remaining to put Moorpark back on top for good.  

An impressive 50 of Moorpark's points were in the paint, compared to just 24 for Merced, as the 6-foot-2 Rangel's height advantage made her a dominating force in the key. To its credit, Merced did have three players scoring in double digits: Suzana Shoji had 10 points and a game-high nine assists, Nakashima finished with 20 points, and Malaya Kendrick posted a double-double with 20 points and 14 boards. 

Moorpark will tip off against Diablo Valley at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. 

(Brian Mellblom, CCCSIA)