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Artistry at Arco

Oak Ridge continues to excel with win over Berkeley, 52-42
By: Matt Long
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Another sterling performance at Arco Arena has given Oak Ridge High’s varsity girls’ basketball team an opportunity to win a state title. The Lady Trojans got off to a rough start against top-seeded Berkeley on Saturday in the Division I Nor-Cal championship game, but played three brilliant quarters and rolled to a 52-42 victory to advance to Saturday’s finale in Bakersfield. As is often the case, the winning team imposes their will on the opponent and that’s exactly what the Lady Trojans did. “They (Oak Ridge) were very poised and we weren’t able to keep the game at our pace and that hurt us,” Berkeley coach Cheryl Draper said following the game. “We wanted to play a fast-paced game and weren’t able to do that.” The Lady Trojans have shown uncanny poise and patience when they needed it most during the playoffs, even in the face of adversity, and that’s why they find themselves a win away from a state title. For the second straight game at Arco Arena, Oak Ridge’s go-to player, Sara James, has struggled to get on track early in the game, but it hardly affected the team. Sure Oak Ridge trailed by seven in the first quarter, but a Dakota McLarnan 3-pointer at the end of the quarter made the team feel better as they only trailed by four, 12-8, without getting a point from James, their leading scorer. James missed her first five shots before scoring her first points early in the second quarter. Oak Ridge took its first lead, 20-18 on basket by Caitlin Welsch late in the second quarter and led 20-19 at the break. The key to the first half, though, was the Lady Trojan defense, as they held an explosive Berkeley team to only 19 points. In fact, Oak Ridge played stellar defense all game, not only holding the Yellowjackets to 42 points, but also a paltry 26 percent field-goal percentage. Berkeley’s last piece of the lead came with the game tied at 25 early in the third quarter. James broke the tie for good with a reverse layup and free throw for a 3-point play, putting the Lady Trojans in front to stay 28-25. Berkeley never got closer than two points the rest of the way. Back-to-back hoops by Carly Bettencourt gave the team a 45-38 lead with 2:15 to play in the game and things looked good for the Lady Trojans. Not only was Berkeley’s top player, Brittany Boyd (11 points) on the bench having fouled out with 3:49 to play, but the Yellowjackets also didn’t have any timeouts remaining, using their last with 2:34 to play. Two free throws by Rachael Howard cut the lead to 45-40, but Welsch put the finishing touch on the Yellowjackets with a 3-point play with 41 seconds to play to put Oak Ridge up by eight. Welsch played yet another strong game, leading the team with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. She also added eight rebounds. James finished with 16 points and a team-high 11 boards. Bettencourt, ever steady, scored eight points and had five assists and six rebounds. Natalie Stone, Megan Griswold and McLarnan also played well, while playing major minutes. After the game, though, White also gave credit to the players who didn’t play. “In the playoffs the rotation shortens, but there have been no complaints, as the girls understand the big picture,” White said. “The girls on the bench are a big reason why we’re in the position we’re in and they deserve a lot of credit.” Another person who deserves some credit is Oak Ridge trainer Reuben Zuniga. With four key players including James, Griswold, Welsch and Kelsi Danciart nursing injuries during the week, Zuniga did everything he could to get them ready for Saturday and they were. James is recovering from a shoulder injury and didn’t practice all week and neither did Griswold who has an ankle sprain. Welsch got clobbered in practice and had a stiff next for much of the week, while Danciart had a shoulder stinger. “Reuben was our MVP,” White said.