Back and forth until the end, Moorpark prevails over Merced to get to their first-ever state final

Head+Coach+Kenny+Plummer+celebrates+with+Sophomore+Barbara+Rangel+after+Moorpark+defeated+Merced+College%2C+73+-68%2C+at+Ventura+College+on+Saturday%2C+March+16%2C+2019%2C+advancing+to+the+CCCAA+Women%27s+Basketball+State+Final+for+the+first+time+in+school+history.++Photo+Credit%3A+Jace+Kessler
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Back and forth until the end, Moorpark prevails over Merced to get to their first-ever state final

Head Coach Kenny Plummer celebrates with Sophomore Barbara Rangel after Moorpark defeated Merced College, 73 -68, at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019, advancing to the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Final for the first time in school history.  Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Head Coach Kenny Plummer celebrates with Sophomore Barbara Rangel after Moorpark defeated Merced College, 73 -68, at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019, advancing to the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Final for the first time in school history. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Head Coach Kenny Plummer celebrates with Sophomore Barbara Rangel after Moorpark defeated Merced College, 73 -68, at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019, advancing to the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Final for the first time in school history. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Head Coach Kenny Plummer celebrates with Sophomore Barbara Rangel after Moorpark defeated Merced College, 73 -68, at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019, advancing to the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Final for the first time in school history. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

By Robert Gonzales

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Breanna Calhoun and teammates preached about it from the start of the season and Saturday night at the state semifinals the season-long dream came to fruition.

With six lead changes in the fourth quarter, the game was coming to a dramatic conclusion. The score was tied at 68 points with 1:13 left and a chance to advance to state finals hanging in the balance.

After Merced trapped Calhoun at the wing, Plummer quickly called a timeout to rescue his star point guard. The play began again with 46 seconds remaining. Merced tried the same trap, but Calhoun squeezed between the two defenders this time. She broke free and found an open Isabel Ayala who took the pass straight to the basket, converting on a hard contested lay-up.

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Head Coach Kenny Plummer tells his team to hold onto the ball with their lives while leading Merced College 71-68 with just seconds to go during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68 to advance to the state final. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

On the biggest moment in the game, rotational player Ayala, made the biggest contribution for her team. The Raiders led with 34 seconds remaining.

“The goal is state,” Calhoun said back in January and Saturday night she realized her dream.

The overall No. 1-ranked Moorpark Raiders women’s basketball team defeated NorCal’s No. 2-ranked Merced 73-68 to advance to their first-ever state championship final.

“It feels amazing knowing how hard we worked,” Calhoun said. “But we know nothing is given to us, so we have to just get one more game and go out and work hard like it’s our first game.”

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Freshman Breanna Calhoun sends the ball to the basket against Merced College during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Calhoun led the team with 33 points. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

Calhoun worked hard to tally 33 points, seven rebounds and four assists on 13-24 shots in the California Community College Athletic Association semifinal round. Throughout the playoffs, she has averaged 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

“It’s amazing, I can’t even put it in words how grateful and how it feels to be able to put Moorpark in this,” Calhoun said. “Like to be able to stand up for our school and just be able to express everything on the court, it’s great.”

The Raiders took an early 14-2 lead against Merced, but the Blue Devils would not back down easily.

For the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second, the Blue Devils held the Raiders scoreless for five minutes. Long enough for the Devils to take their first lead at 21-20.

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Sophomore Emily Herring tosses the ball around Merced College's Suzuna Shoji during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

They battled back and forth to get to 32-31 with a minute and a half left in the second quarter but freshman guard Jazmin Carrasco closed out the half with two more buckets, extending Moorpark’s lead to 37-31.

By halftime only two players had reached double-digit scores, both played for Moorpark. The Co-Western State Conference North Players of the Year Barbara Rangel and Calhoun led all scorers with 10 and 15-point stat lines, respectively, while also adding nine and five rebounds in their efforts.

“We really rely on each other to be successful,” Rangel said. “The adversity really made that apparent. If we were not as close, we would not have made it this far and would not have been so successful.”

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Sophomore Barbara Rangel drives underneath the basket as teammate Emily Herring looks for Rangel to pass her the ball during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark defeated Merced, 73-68 to advance to the state final. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

The Raiders relied on each other to start the second half strong, they opened with a 48-36 lead.

But the Blue Devils came back again. Blue devil guards Ayaka Nakashima and Malaya Kendrick came alive. Refusing to concede, they outscored all other players with 10 and nine points in the third quarter alone.

By the final three and a half minutes of the third, the score was tied at 48.

Each team remained stuck at 48, unable to gain momentum on either side until sophomore guard Mia Moore knocked down a corner three, putting the Raiders up with a minute and a half remaining in the quarter. The quarter concluded with the Raiders holding a 54-53 lead over Merced.

“As we preached all year, be ready when your number is called,” Moorpark Head Coach Kenny Plummer said. “This whole state tournament, Mia’s been going in there and giving us some positive minutes, hitting a three [and] getting some key rebounds … play as a team and you know we’ll find a way to get it done.”

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The Moorpark bench reacts to a free throw made by Freshman Breanna Calhoun to put the Raiders ahead of Merced College, 68-63, late in the game during the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinals, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark went on to defeat Merced College, 73-68 and advanced to the state final. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

The fourth quarter proved to be a test of will and character. Each team took a lead over the other, but both sides battled to remain within striking distance.

The Raiders built a five-point cushion, their largest lead in the fourth quarter, with 1:50 remaining in the game the Raiders would need to hold onto their 68-63 lead.

But the Blue Devils fought for their basketball lives. With grit and determination, freshman guard Suzuna Shoji hit two clutch free throws and assisted on the ensuing “and-one” to tie the game back up.

After the Raiders took their fifth lead in the fourth quarter, 70-68, the game would come down to the next defensive possession.

Carrasco kept in front of Blue Devil guard Shoji as she drove the lane, keeping her on her outside hip. Carrasco’s defense impeded Shoji’s path to the basket. The lay-up hit the bottom side of the backboard and Rangel recovered the rebound seemingly sealing Moorpark’s victory.

Calhoun was fouled with 10 seconds remaining in the game. Two free-throws would have put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils. Calhoun made the first one but missed the second, the Blue Devils’ hopes were still alive.

With 10 seconds remaining, 71-68, the Blue Devils had one more chance to tie the game. Shoji overthrew Nakashima and the ball flew out of bounds. 5.7 seconds left on the clock, the Raiders would need to inbound the ball safely one more time to advance to the finals.

Carrasco found their consistent big presence, big moment player Rangel, on the inbound. Rangel immediately gave the ball back to Carrasco seeing the Blue Devils didn’t mark Carrasco after the inbound.

Carrasco sprinted realizing no one was in her path. Excitement coursing through her veins, she collected herself for this one big moment. She nailed the open lay-up finally sending Moorpark to the state finals for the first time ever in school history.

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The Moorpark College Women's Basketball team celebrates in their locker room after defeating Merced College, 73 -68, in the CCCAA Women's Basketball State Semifinal, held at Ventura College on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Moorpark advanced to the state final for the first time in school history. Photo Credit: Jace Kessler

“Either way [whatever] outcome, comes out, we broke so many records and did so many great things this year, we really can’t lose tomorrow,” Rangel said.

SoCal’s No. 1-ranked Moorpark plays NorCal’s No. 1-ranked Diablo Valley for the CCCAA state finale on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Outstanding Statistics

Merced:

11 Ayaka Nakashima: 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 20 points

15 Malaya Kendrick: 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 20 points on 9-19 FGA

34 Suzuna Shoji: 9 assists, 10 points

Moorpark:

10 Emily Herring: 9 rebounds, 4 assists

2 Isabel Ayala: 6 rebounds, 5 assists

22 Breanna Calhoun: 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 33 points on 13-24 FGA. Averaging: 22 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists throughout the playoffs.

42 Barbara Rangel: 15 rebounds, 3 blocks, 21 points on 10-18 FGA. Averaging: 18.5 points, 15 rebounds and 2 assists throughout the playoffs.

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