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Women's Basketball: Pirates share top spot

Di Croce's 19 points help OCC win seventh straight and join Saddleback in first-place tie.

February 11, 2014|By Barry Faulkner

MISSION VIEJO — Orange Coast College women's basketball coach Mike Thornton has spent most of the season trying to figure out his team. But after a 48-42 win at Saddleback on Tuesday that extended the Pirates' Orange Empire Conference winning streak to six games and lifted them into a first-place tie with the Gauchos, Thornton turned his inquiring mind to the source of the surging squad's good fortune.

As with most winning streaks, there are a number of factors, some of which the visitors (16-9, 7-2 in conference) displayed against the Gauchos (16-10, 7-2).

Included among those was the continued dominance of a 3-2 zone defense that has replaced Thornton's trademark man-to-man. The defense held Saddleback, ranked No. 9 in Southern California and No. 18 in the state, to a paltry 23% shooting from the field (17 for 74).


Also apparent was a revolving door of standout individual performances, as sophomore Chanelle Di Croce took her turn with a game-high 19 points, including nine of her team's last 13 and the clinching free throws with 14 seconds left to finalize the score.

But there is also Thornton's magic royal blue dress shirt, a Christmas gift from his wife that first mysteriously, and now ritualistically has been worn on the sideline for each of the team's seven conference wins.

Juxtaposed against a scenario in which Thornton has criticized his 25th team at OCC for being uncoachable, lacking effort in practice, and almost uniformly short on basketball IQ, a little button-down mojo might be as good an explanation for success as any.

"We have this theory that the shirt is bringing us good luck," said Di Croce, whom Thornton said is becoming a candidate for conference MVP. "He started telling us that his wife got him a pink shirt [specifically for the Coaches' vs. Cancer game on Thursday at home against Santa Ana], but we didn't even let him finish, before we all started going 'Nooooo, you have to wear the blue shirt."

As usual, Thornton's shirt was cloaked in perspiration, as the Pirates nearly frittered away a lead built by surges to start both halves.

While Saddleback was missing 17 of its first 20 field-goal tries (15%), the Pirates opened a 16-7 advantage that was extended to 18-7 before the hosts ended a scoreless streak of 7:41 on their way to a 25-18 halftime deficit.

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