If Ventura High basketball players felt as if they were walking on water at the Beverly Hills tournament last week, it's because they were: The portable gym floor sits atop the swimming pool.
But the Cougars felt invincible for another reason. Their comeback from an 18-point deficit for a 58-57 win in the final against Beverly Hills bordered on the miraculous. And it followed two other water-to-win routines.
Ventura downed Palisades, 60-55, in the semifinals after trailing by eight points at halftime, and defeated Saugus, 69-68, in the quarterfinals on a basket by guard Joe Paul with 18 seconds left. The Cougars beat Hart in the first round in a comparative rout, 79-68.
Ventura, which was eliminated by Diamond Bar in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section 4-A playoffs last season, hasn't been outscored in a third or fourth quarter this year.
"The key is conditioning," Coach Chris Taylor said. "We started practice two weeks early this year and I have to believe we're in better shape than teams we play.
"It's hard to go into the huddle down by 11 and tell the guys they can come back if their legs are dead. We came close enough to a CIF championship last season that the kids came back with a great work ethic."
Another factor contributing to Ventura's early success is a strong following. The Cougar contingent was more vocal than fans for Beverly Hills, the tournament host.
"The Beverly Hills coach told me after the game that it was the first time he could remember a visiting crowd making an impact on the game," Taylor said.
Ventura's Chris Hantgin, who scored 68 points, was selected most valuable player.
Add tournament: Ventura has won the Beverly Hills tournament nine times in the event's 47-year history--more than any school.
Ventura last won the title in 1982, and Aaron Dyer of the Cougars was named most valuable player. When Ventura took back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977, Don Larson was MVP both times.
Other MVPs in Ventura championship years: Keith Wilkes (1968); Joe Chrissman (1963); Tom Freese (1959); Jim Bohlen (1954); Ed Milan (1949).
Oliver's twist: After losing in the first round of the Beverly Hills tournament to Mater Dei, the defending Southern Section 5-A champion, Buena reeled off victories over Camarillo and Crespi, another 5-A team.
Sophomore guard Jeff Oliver hit a three-point shot with 21 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 59-58 win over Crespi. It was the third three-pointer of the fourth quarter for Oliver, who led Buena with 19 points.
In the first-round game, Buena led Mater Dei by 10 points midway through the third quarter, but was outscored, 22-11, in the final period of a 71-66 loss. Oliver had 16 points and six assists.
Perfect ladies: Buena, bidding for an 11th consecutive title in its own tournament, scored 28 points before opposing San Marcos got on the board as the Lady Bulldogs cruised to a 95-23 win.
Ok, so nobody expected much from San Marcos.
The Lady Bulldogs finished the tournament by soundly whipping Marina, 76-49.
More was expected of Marina, which came into the game unbeaten and ranked No. 8 in the 4-A division.
Buena (4-0) scored 236 points in the three games to break its own tournament record of 226, set in 1980.
Hueneme High's Leticia Garcia was named volleyball player of the year in the Channel League. Garcia, a senior, and Pauline Salonoa--another all-league selection--helped Hueneme to its seventh consecutive league title.
Buena's Shelly Swalec also made the first team.
JC watch: Despite losses in two tournaments, Ventura (8-2) is ranked seventh in the Southland poll of junior college basketball teams. Allan Hancock (12-0), which like Ventura is a member of the Western State Conference, is ranked No. 2 behind El Camino.
Moorpark (2-4) doubled its win total of last season after beating Camp Kilpatrick, 66-59, in the second round of the Faith Baptist tournament. The Musketeers won only one of 18 games a year ago.