But OCC went cold in the final 20 minutes, allowing Chaffey (1-10) to pare into the deficit. The Panthers pulled within 43-38 with 3:23 remaining, but the Pirates outscored the visitors from there on to survive and advance.
"Our kids are really gritty," Thornton said, "So they just keep finding a way to win. The only reason we're 12-1 is because we have tough kids."
Sophomore guard Crystal McCormick displayed said toughness by barreling through traffic for two crucial baskets in the late going.
And 6-foot-3 freshman center Madison Parks grimaced through consistent knee pain to produce a game-high 18 rebounds, while also scoring 14 points. Parks followed her shot with 35 seconds left to create a 47-40 lead and all but seal the win.
"I still think she's playing at only about 75%," Thornton said of Parks, the sister of nine-year NBA veteran Cherokee Parks. "She has a torn meniscus and it has limited her movement. It also makes it tough for her to play three games in a row, like we'll need her to do in this tournament."
McCormick, whom Thornton said is as streaky a shooter as he has seen, made four of her first five shots, including 2 of 3 from three-point range, to trigger the Pirates' early success.
And though McCormick cooled along with her teammates after intermission -- she missed her first five tries from the field in the second half -- she came up big as the lead was slipping away.
"Crystal has hit some big buckets for us this year," Thornton said. "When she first came here, she was strictly a spot-up shooter. But she has done a good job of improving other areas of her game, including getting to the basket."