Huntington Beach High girls' basketball Coach Russ McClurg figured his team would face a tall order in Ventura, the Oilers' CIF Southern Section semifinal opponent Tuesday.
He was right.
Visiting Ventura worked its inside game and went to its veterans throughout the Division 1A showdown, and the second-seeded Cougars pulled away to score a 60-41 victory over the third-seeded Oilers.
Huntington led early but the Cougars, led in the middle by 6-foot-1 senior center Cassandra McCambridge, 5-11 senior forward Marki Meyer and 5-9 senior forward Kayalin Akens-Matthews-Irby, were able to build a double-digit midway through the second quarter. They maintained no less than a seven-point lead the remainder of the game.
The Ventura trio combined for 44 points.
"I think their size bothered us," McClurg said. "They did a good job with their high-low, high-low, and with their cutters, and we kind of knew it coming into it.
"They have four senior [starters] to our two, and I think that was the difference in this game, their maturity."
Guard Paola Roa, one of two senior starters for Huntington, scored 11 of the Oilers' first 13 points. She went on to score a game-high 21 points.
Huntington's other senior starter, guard Stephanie Louie, scored 10 points. Huntington had scored only two points in the first seven minutes of the second quarter but Louie gave the Oilers a late scoring push by hitting a pair of three-point shots in the final 37 seconds of the half, her final one a long shot to beat the halftime buzzer which pulled the Oilers to within 28-21 at the half.
Ventura, champion of the Channel League, opened the second half with a 9-3 run to build its lead to 37-25 with 3:16 left in the third quarter and was on its way to its 18th-consecutive victory.
Huntington, which had a 17-game win streak snapped, would get no closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
"Absolutely the biggest thing we had talked about coming into this game, was their pressure," Ventura Coach Ann Larson said. "It came down to our bigs against their pressure. We were scarred of their two players (Roa, Louie) who did everything they could to help them tonight. We respected them and what Russ [McClurg] does."
Huntington set up Tuesday's semifinal game by going to Burbank Saturday and taking down sixth-seeded and Pacific League champ Burroughs, 66-52. Roa also had a game-high for points with 23, Louie scored 17 and sophomore guard Sammy Gray scored nine points.
In their second postseason game Feb. 26, the Oilers went on the road and upended 14th-seeded and Golden West League winner Westminster, 51-35. Roa had a game-best 18 points, Gray scored 13 and Louie had 11 points.
Huntington, which won the Sunset League championship, its second league title in three years, finished the year 26-3.
Huntington was seeking its second trip in three years to a Southern Section final.
"It's been a great season," McClurg said. "My kids played hard and in nine out of the last 10 years, we have won 20 games. I'm really happy with the season. Disappointed in this loss, but happy with the season."
The top four seeds in Division 1A reached the semifinal round. Ventura (28-2) will be making its third title-game appearance under Larson when the Cougars take on top-seeded Camarillo in a 6:30 p.m. final Saturday at Azusa Pacific University. The Cougars won a division title in 2002 and finished runner-up in 2005.
Camarillo was a 61-36 winner of fourth-seeded Newbury Park (Marmonte League champ) in Tuesday's other semifinal. The Scorpions have won their four playoff games by an average of 24 points.