Pierce College didn't go to the Rancho Santiago College tournament in Santa Ana with very much, unless you count character.
"These guys showed everyone that they had a lot of character," said Pierce Coach Larry Lessett, referring to his 4-10 Brahmas who beat Valley, 76-67, Saturday. "People can't believe we're 4-10, but because these guys have shown so much character, so much maturity, now they're starting to believe in our system."
Whether or not Pierce, which is has some of the best talent in the area, found itself in Santa Ana will remain a mystery until the Metropolitan Conference begins play in two weeks. In the meantime, Pierce can take a couple of things away from the tournament: the trophy for winning the consolation final against Valley, and a two-game win streak, which the school hasn't had in two years.
The Pierce offense has shifted recently into at least one higher gear--three or more players have been scoring in double figures regularly. Saturday, Tony Thomas, who helped Fairfax to the City 3-A championship last season, scored a game high 17 points, an honor he shared with Valley's Robin Andrews. Tony Goodall, Kent Young and Cedric Purry each scored in double figures.
On defense, the Brahmas were no less formidable. Pierce pressed Valley early, which resulted in Valley hitting only nine of 28 shots in the first half. Both teams ended the game shooting around 50% from the field. Pierce won the game at the free throw line.
After enjoying about a 10-point lead for much of the game--Pierce led at halftime, 33-24--the Brahmas let the Monarchs catch up and cut the deficit to seven in the middle of the second half.
Then Valley got into foul trouble, lots of foul trouble, and Purry, Young and Goodall took advantage of it. You can't say Pierce doesn't accept charity.
The Brahmas scored 15 points from the line in the last 15 minutes, with four of those points coming on three-point plays.
"That makes me happy," Lessett said, "because I think the players are beginning to understand what we need to do to win one. We're beginning to show the maturity we need, the character we need.
"Winning this isn't like winning the Metro Conference, but the kids have learned something--something they'll need when the conference does begin. And I think we'll be ready. Like I said, people can't believe we have won only four games. Well, we're winning and I think this team will win when the conference starts."
One thing that Valley, now 7-10, showed Saturday was that it can dish out the fouls but finds it awfully difficult to take them. The lopsided free throw statistics showed that the Monarchs were apparently willing to sacrifice Pierce shooters on the foul line for its own defense. Valley made 11 of only 16 from the line while Pierce made 28 of 36. That hurt the Monarchs beyond repair, even though Valley had four players of its own scoring in double-figures.
Along with Andrews' 17, Valley got 12 from John Windham, 11 from Mario Lopez, and 10 from Gary Goodrich. Windham had 16 rebounds to remain the tournament's leading rebounder. His closest competition came from Purry, who had 10. Purry was the tournament's second-leading rebounder.
PIERCE--Thomas 17; Goodall 14; Young 11; Purry 10 and 10 rebounds; Italia 9; Jercha 9; Dickson 4; Newton 2.
VALLEY--Andrews 17; Windham 12 and 16 rebounds; Lopez 11; Goodrich 10; Harden 9; Lewis 6; Wright 2.