Lady Trojans fight hard but fall to Berkeley, 56-45

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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There’s no denying Oak Ridge’s successful season came to an end Saturday at the hands of a better team, but in the 56-45 loss to Berkeley in the Division I Northern California title game, the Lady Trojans showed great heart and desire.

After scoring the game’s first eight points, Oak Ridge slumped miserably on the wrong end of an 18-1 run that saw them trailing 18-9 after one quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, Oak Ridge trailed by 25 and were on the brink of being blown out. At that point, it was conceivable the team would lose by 40.

Showing great heart, desire and competitiveness, the girls from Oak Ridge fought and battled with all they had in the second half, getting as close as nine points before time ran out.

“We were being embarrassed in the first half, but the girls responded,” Oak Ridge coach Steve White said. “They gave everything they had. They fought back and believed they had a chance to win.”

It’s not that the Lady Trojans played their best basketball in the second half. They didn’t shoot a high percentage and they weren’t dominating at the other end of the floor. Their comeback was the result of nothing but hard work and desire and fighting with all they had until the final horn.

Ali Bettencourt, who ended the game with a team-high 17 points, only made one basket in the second half, along with six free throws, but kept looking for her shot. Michelle Barkley played a strong game off the bench, scoring 10 points and grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds, while also blocking three shots. Gabby Flores harassed Berkeley’s guards with hard-nosed defense, and Haley Anderson played her heart out in her final game wearing Oak Ridge navy and gold.

Another senior, Lauren Liebert, played the most meaningful five minutes and 27 seconds of her career. Having recovered in Deccember from a second torn anterior cruciate ligament, Liebert returned to play the entire second half of her senior year, far earlier than she originally thought. It meant the world for her to play in this game.

Jenn Hoffman, Nikki Dow Jenna Ford, Sydney Stigerts, Grace Derksen, Yumi Drossos, Shelby Peters and Celeste Vitolas all gave it their all.

“We had no answer for their rebounding,” said Anderson,of Berkeley’s 25-16 rebounding edge at halftime. “They set the tone physically in the first half and we didn’t respond until the second half.”

Trailing by 31-15 at halftime, Oak Ridge nearly equaled Berkeley in the third quarter, scoring 10 points to Berkeley’s 12. In the fourth, Oak Ridge outscored the Yellowjackets 20-13. If rebounding is any indication of want and desire, after being crushed on the boards in the first half, Oak Ridge won the battle of the boards in the second half, 24-19.

“I’m proud of everybody,” White said. “Michelle battled through a lot of injuries and probably played the most minutes of the season tonight. She played an outstanding game and I’m proud of her. Gabby came off the bench and sparked us. Jenn played a pretty good game and Lauren, her goal was to just step on the floor on senior night.”

Not only did Liebert play the entire second half of the season, but she also made a three-pointer in the Nor-Cal championship game.

“It felt amazing to make that shot,” said Liebert, choking back tears. “Nothing can top that feeling. It was my dream at the beginning of the season to be playing (at Sleep Train).”

Reflecting on the season, White said he will have nothing but fond memories.

“The way the girls battled in the second half, that’s really what they’ve been doing all year,” White said. “They battled through adversity and stayed in this game and it’s a tribute to the girls and their work ethic. This group has tremendous team chemistry and that’s immeasurable. It makes a big difference.”