Irvine Valley's women's basketball team gave the top-ranked team Southern California a real battle Saturday night in a CCCAA Southern California Regional final.
And with a trip to the state tournament on the line, the fifth-seeded Lasers were right there in the fourth quarter.
But No. 1-seeded Mt. SAC closed strong and held on for a 56-51 win over Irvine Valley to advance.
It was the 13th time in the past 15 years that Mt. SAC has made it to the state final four.
The top-seeded Mounties (32-1) will play the No. 2 seed team from the north, Fresno City College (29-3) on Friday in a CCCAA state playoff semifinal game at Las Positas College in Livermore.
The other semifinal game features No. 2 south seed East Los Angeles (23-9) versus north No. 1 seed College of San Francisco (28-3).
The So. Cal. Regional final was the 16th in the last 17 years for the Mountie women.
Irvine Valley was making its second straight appearance in a regional final. It fell to East Los Angeles a year ago.
The Lasers finished this season with a record of 23-8 overall. They were 9-3 in the Orange Empire Conference for second place.
Irvine Valley scored the first nine points of the game, was up, 35-28, at halftime and led by many as seven points late in the third quarter.
And IVC was ahead, 43-39, heading into the fourth quarter.
But Mt. SAC scored the first six points of the final period to take a 45-43 advantage.
Irvine Valley tied it at 45-45 on a jumper by sophomore guard Erika Mercado.
The Mounties then scored five more points in a row, capped by a jumper by Tahniya Sweatt, to go up, 50-45, with 5:06 to play.
Mt. SAC ended the game with a 6-2 run to win.
After each team traded baskets, Mt. SAC's Caira Benton was fouled at midcourt and sank both free throws to give the Mounties a 54-51 lead with 14 seconds left. After another Laser foul, two more free throws gave Mt. SAC the five-point victory.
Leading the way for Mt. SAC with a game-high 16 points and five steals was Sweatt. The sophomore was 6 for 13 from the field and 4 for 8 at the free throw line.
Also scoring for the Mounties in double figures was freshman forward Jonnae Vermillion with 12 points and five rebounds and Benton with 11 points and eight rebounds. Gina Henderson added nine points.
Sophomore guard Tara Casey led Irvine Valley with a team-high 12 points. Mercado had nine points, sophomore forward Morgan Bryant finished with eight points and five rebounds and freshman forward Kasey Smith had seven points, seven rebounds and two steals. Coleman contributed six points and seven assists.
IVC shocked the Mounties early with the 9-0 start to the game. Bryant made a jumper, Casey made a jumper, Mercado drained a three-pointer and Smit made a basket.
Mt. SAC, however, righted the ship and only trailed, 15-13, at the end of the quarter. IVC built its seven point lead at the half, but the Lasers scored just eight points each in the third and fourth quarters.
Irvine Valley shot 31.8 percent (7 of 22) in the second half. The Lasers ended up shooting 41.3 percent (19 of 46) for the game.
"We gave it everything we had," Irvine Valley coach Julie Hanks said. "I was really proud of our players and the way they kept fighting. We had a really great season."