For three quarters, it was all #6 seed Pasadena City College in the women's basketball team's SoCal Regional Playoff, Round 2 game against Palomar Friday night. The Lancers bombed in eight 3-point baskets and led 45-28 at halftime, then 56-41 after three quarters. But in the fourth quarter, PCC went cold on offense as the #11 Comets mounted a furious rally to cut it to two points.
Defense, though, has been a strength for PCC this season. Up 60-58 with nine seconds left, it was Daniela Mendez who stepped up and blocked a 3-point attempt by Palomar's Julie Saelee. The play allowed the Lancers to eke out a 61-58 victory as they advanced to a Round 3 Regional final next Saturday, March 9 against an opponent to be announced. PCC upped its remarkable home playoff record at Hutto-Patterson Gymnasium to 22-2 while head coach Joe Peron won for the 37th time in 57 career postseason games.
PCC (19-10) will face the winner of Saturday's Round 2 matchup between #3 seed East Los Angeles and #14 Cypress.
"In the first half, we played perhaps our best 20 minutes going as far back as the first weeks of the season," Peron said. "We got lax and stopped following our game plan in the second half. I told the players that basketball is a game of runs and we just had to ride through Palomar's run. We finally stopped it in those last two minutes, and we're just glad to pull out the win. Our guards came through tonight, especially on offense. We know we are going to have to play our best for a full 40 minutes if we want to keep going."
In the first quarter, Palomar (21-8) led 19-14, but a layup-and-one by Kailey Thai was followed by a 3-pointer from Jade Lin that gave the Lancers a 20-19 lead at the end of the period. Melissa Felix got hot to start the second quarter as she hit three consecutive 3-pointers that increased the lead to 29-19. PCC's sharp shooting from 3-point range (8-for-17 in the opening 20 minutes) was capped by a 30-foot buzzer beater by Lin that gave Pasadena its 45-28 halftime advantage.
Felix drilled another buzzer beater to finish of a closely played third quarter as PCC held a 15-point lead with 10 minutes left. The Comets came out flying and went on a 15-2 run that was finished on a 3-pointer by Julie Saelee as PCC's lead was down to two, 58-56. With 1:55 remaining, Zaira Velasquez ended a 6-plus minute scoring drought by the Lancers with an inside jumper for a 4-point lead. Palomar responded on a running jumper by Taylor Williams with 1:16 to go, but Mendez's heroic defensive play stopped the Comets comeback a little short.
Felix led the Lancers with 12 points while center Dariel Johnson, who was double-teamed and at times triple-teamed in the post, added 10 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. Lin scored nine points, point guard Cosette Balmy had eight points, five assists, and five rebounds while both Mendez and Thai contributed six points each. Velasquez chipped in four points and eight boards and Elise Ortega stepped up with four points and a team-high four steals. Saelee led the Comets with 17 points, including five treys.
One of the key factors that kept PCC ahead was offensive rebounding. PCC made 24 offensive boards (45 overall) and that allowed the team to get second and third opportunities as well as milk the clock on possessions in the second half.
PCC is 20-2 in opening playoff games under Peron. The Lancers have advanced to the third round, or a regional final, 13 times in their history, reaching the CCCAA State Championship Final 8 seven times, all in a row from 2004-2010. The Lancers won their only state title in 2009.