COSTA MESA -- The Orange Coast College women's tennis team is returning to the state championships for the second time in three seasons after the Pirates outlasted Riverside City College, 5-2, in the Southern California Regional finals on Saturday.
With the win, the top-seeded Pirates (21-0) will travel to Ventura College for the state championship and will take on the winner of the Northern California Regional finals between Chabot (20-3) and Foothill (17-1) on Wednesday, beginning at 12 p.m.
This was the third meeting of the season between the Pirates and second-ranked Tigers (17-3), with OCC taking the first two matches, 7-2, in Orange Empire Conference play.
In doubles, the OCC duo of Miri Inoue and Nicole Knickerbocker made quick work of things and quickly notched an 8-0 win over the RCC duo of Maxelle Bernie and Torrey Mateljan to give the Pirates the opening point of the match.
From there, it was a battle in the Nos. 2 and 3 matches for both teams. At No. 2, the OCC team of Shayee Sherif and Camryn Mason took on RCC's Heather Graf and Yasmin Johnson and midway through the match, Coast broke the serve of the Tigers to grab a 6-4 lead in the set. Riverside broke right back and trailed, 6-5, only to see a pair of costly double faults turn the favor back to the Pirates at 7-5.
Serving for the match, Coast had a 30-15 lead, only to see Graf and Johnson battle back to deuce and eventually win the game to trail, 7-6.
But on RCC's next serve, Sherif and Mason came out hot with three straight points to lead 40-0. After an RCC point, Sherif and Mason finally put the Tigers away and won the set, 8-6.
Riverside prevailed at No. 3 doubles, 8-5, which put the Pirates up, 2-1, heading into singles play.
"We've managed to win both of our earlier matches with Riverside, but I knew this would be a battle today and it was," OCC head coach Chris Ketcham said. "Riverside has a lot of depth and I knew we would need a complete team effort to get this one today."
In singles, Inoue (6-0, 6-0) and Sherif (6-0, 6-0) prevailed for Coast, putting the Pirates just one match win away from victory.
But Riverside notched a win at No. 6 singles to make it 4-2 and with just three matches remaining, anything could happen.
At No. 5 singles, Claire Boettcher battled Johnson and in spite of not feeling her best, the sophomore managed to pull out a 6-4, 6-4 win to close things out. After taking the first set, Boettcher trailed, 4-1 in the second, but finished strong with wins in the final five games.
"Claire definitely wasn't feeling well out there, but sometimes when you're not feeling well, you really focus more on each shot and that's what she did out there," Ketcham said. "That was a gritty effort out of here and she really came up with some big shots late in that second set."
Knickerbocker was leading in her match, 7-5, 3-1 at No. 3 singles and Mason was up, 1-6, 7-5, 1-0 in her No. 5 singles match when the contest was stopped after Coast picked up its fifth and deciding point.
On Wednesday, the Pirates will be returning to Ventura College, site of their last state title victory in 2017 (a 5-4 win over De Anza College) and Coast will be vying for the school's 10th team women's tennis title (1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 2005, 2006, 2017).
"It's great to be back in the finals again and this team has worked hard all year and deserves this opportunity," Ketcham said.