Oak Ridge slips past Ponderosa, 50-49

By: Jim Ratajczak, The Telegraph
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The Oak Ridge High School Trojans continued their winning ways Friday night, topping rival Ponderosa 50-49. This victory, an all-important league win, keeps the Trojans in the hunt for a league title. Head coach Bob Christensen said he badly wanted Friday's win for a number of reasons. "The rivalry," he explained. "We lost to them earlier. And this win gets us back in the hunt for the title." As is the case with all one-point victories, the game was an intense match up on the court and in the stands. Another standing room only crowd packed the Trojan gym to watch two rivals duke it out. Out of the gate, Pondo was able to employ its pass-heavy, defensive-minded schemes, thus controlling the game's tempo and keeping Oak Ridge's scoring in check. With this down-tempo style, the Bruins took a 12-7 lead after one quarter. "They're well coached," said Christensen. "They're one of the best defenses in the state. Their players are very disciplined." Things didn't get much better for the Trojans in the second. The home crowd grew surprisingly silent as it watched Oak Ridge continue to struggle against the Bruins defense. Colin Jackson was on the receiving end of a dandy of an alley-oop from Chad Nunes which briefly re-energized the crowd, but beyond that, there wasn't much to cheer about and Ponderosa took a 22-15 lead at the half. Although both teams retreated into their respective locker rooms, both student cheering sections made sure there was still plenty of action in the gym. Students en masse from both schools lobbed vicious verbal grenades at each other, each chant one more venomous than the last and most of which are unfit for publishing. When the players returned, though, Oak Ridge was able to shake out of its first-half doldrum and pick up the pace. Ryan Mastella nailed a pair of threes in the quarter's first few minutes and the Trojan defense held Pondo scoreless until 3:32 in the third. "We made adjustments with the sets we ran," said Christensen. "We attacked the basket." With the newfound aggression, Oak Ridge took a 39-29 lead into the final quarter. The game would not truly be decided until the final three minutes when Oak Ridge sunk six-of-10 free throws over that span, including one-of-two from Mastella in the game's final second, to give the Trojans a 50-46 lead. The players and crowd knew it would take a miracle for Ponderosa to tie the game but, with .4 seconds left, Bruin forward Eddie Bell sunk a Hail Mary lob from half court to bring Pondo to within one. It was too little, too late. The Trojans hung on and a spirited crowd rushed onto the court to celebrate the hard fought victory. "That's what high school basketball is all about," said Christensen. "It's great for the players, it's great for the coaches, it's great for the fans. That's why I do this job." With the win, Oak Ridge moved to 15-5 overall and 5-2 in league play. But more importantly, the Trojans atoned for a 45-33 loss suffered at the hands of the Bruins earlier in the month. Oak Ridge will travel to face Galt on Feb. 4. For Christensen, the emphasis at practices will be on the defensive side of the ball. "Our goal is to continue to improve defensively," he said. "That's what we do every practice. That's what we'll continue to do."