IRVINE — Another opponent crumbled during crunch time against the Ventura College women's basketball team.
This time De Anza bit the dust, as Ventura scored nine consecutive points in the final two minutes to earn a 73-70 victory in a state semifinal Friday night at UC Irvine.
The Pirates (36-1), who play San Jose (33-2) for the championship today at 5:30 at the Bren Events Center, didn't figure on a cakewalk to a record third consecutive state title.
So far, they haven't.
One night after rallying in the second half to defeat Merritt, 67-62, Ventura was challenged by the quick-passing Dons (29-8), who rallied from two seven-point first-half deficits to take a 70-64 lead with three minutes to play.
But for Ventura, when the going gets tough. . . .
"We play hard," Ventura Coach Ned Mircetic said.
Three words that serve as a motto for the Pirates. Trite as it sounds, the credo rings true.
A swarming Ventura defense forced two turnovers in the final two minutes while sophomore guard Amirah Leonard provided clutch shooting.
Leonard, who scored a game-high 26 points, made a free throw to pull the Pirates to within 70-65 with 1:59 to play, then scored inside seconds later after Ventura took possession on a jump ball.
Leonard followed with a steal and assisted on a basket by Stefanie Kawasaki. Leonard's jump shot from the lane with 1:15 to play to give Ventura the lead and she added a pair of free throws with 13.2 seconds to play.
"I was calm the whole time," Leonard said. "This was going to be our last game or there was going to be one more. We looked inside, I guess."
Mircetic, who has guided Ventura to 107 victories in 109 games, said it came down to the basics for his players.
"They bared their basketball souls," Mircetic said. "We haven't had an easy one pretty much all year.
"But because of our effort, we've been able to get some good wins."
Leonard's efforts offset the loss of sophomore forward Lynda Amari, who was sidelined the entire second half because of a sprained right knee.
Amari scored 11 points, including two three-point baskets in as many attempts as Ventura assumed a 43-42 lead at the half.
In the end, Amari could only watch with her right knee packed in ice.
"Since the beginning, we've played hard," Amari said. "That's just how it is. We say it all the time, but it's probably true because we win."