Oak Ridge wins another game on the road to reach Nor-Cal finals
Despite losing to Heritage by 19 points nearly two months ago, Oak Ridge High’s varsity girls’ basketball team believed they could beat them Tuesday in the semifinals of the Northern California playoffs.
That strong belief led to an upset 51-50 win, as Oak Ridge advances to Saturday’s Northern California championship game at Sleep Train Arena, where they will face another familiar foe in Berkeley. This will be in the fourth year in the row the Lady Trojans have faced the Yelllowjackets, who have ended Oak Ridge’s season the last two years in the Nor-Cal playoffs after Oak Ridge beat them on its way to a state title in 2010.
“We’re so excited to win,” Oak Ridge senior Haley Anderson said. “It’s cool that we end up with Berkeley too because it’s just like a couple years ago when we won state. We have this slogan of ‘unfinished business’ and that’s on our list of things to do. We knew we wanted to get back to Arco (Sleep Train) and we didn’t do it in the section playoffs, but to get back here for Nor-Cals on an even bigger stage is pretty awesome. It’s really cool.”
What Oak Ridge knew entering the game is that previous meetings earlier in the season, as well as playing higher seeds, don’t mean anything. The Lady Trojans had already defeated Amador Valley and Wilcox on the road, so they knew traveling to Brentwood wouldn’t be an issue. Overcoming a previous 19-point loss to the Patriots? Not a problem.
“The key was we believed we could win,” Oak Ridge junior Jenn Hoffman said. “We played together and shared the ball and everyone did their part.”
Anderson added, “It’s kind of been infused in us after our last two games; it doesn’t matter what building you’re playing in or what seed or who you’re playing. Games aren’t won on paper. We’ve bought into that. That was kind of the motto of the state team when I was a freshman and now we’re using it.”
Anderson said the team knew they played poorly when the teams met Jan. 26, a 55-36 loss for the Lady Trojans. If the team played better, or at least the way they normally play, they figured they had a shot.
“We were in that game until halfway through the third quarter without hitting our shots and being in foul trouble and having players injured,” Anderson said. “We knew we could play with them this time.”
Games aren’t won in the first half, but Oak Ridge could have easily lost Tuesday’s game in the first half. After scoring the game’s first six points, Oak Ridge didn’t score again until midway through the second quarter, as Heritage rattled off 17 straight points to go up by 11. Playing on the road against a higher-seeded team who they previously lost to, that 11 points probably seemed like more, but the Lady Trojans didn’t flinch.
Oak Ridge coach Steve White inserted Hoffman back into the game with two fouls, something he wouldn’t normally do, and she responded, hitting a three-pointer and earning an and-one opportunity. Ali Bettencourt, who led the team with 23 points, added a three and another two-point field goal as well.
“I just had to be smart,” Hoffman said. “It didn’t bother me having two fouls. I still was aggressive.”
Thanks to a 19-4 run, by halftime Oak Ridge led 25-21.
The game ended up coming down to the wire. Leading by five points late, the Lady Trojans held on for the one-point win, thanks to a few clutch free throws by Anderson.
Oak Ridge’s defense on Heritage’s top three-point shooter, Lexi Campbell, was also a key to the win.
“I think she only took two or three shots and last time I think she scored 15 points on us,” White said.
Following Bettencourt’s 23 points, Hoffman finished with 13 and Anderson scored nine.
After the game, White kept his talk to the team short, but it wasn’t all about celebrating the win.
“I told them anytime you win a game this time of the year you should enjoy it,” White said. “Obviously, there were things we needed to do better at the end of the game and I told the girls that we (the coaches) have our thoughts about what they are and they need to think about it and we’ll talk about it at practice tomorrow.
“This win is up there as being pretty exciting. We’ve logged a lot of miles during these playoffs and the girls have shown their resiliency and hung in there and gotten it done. I give them a lot of credit.”
Now, for the fourth straight season, Oak Ridge faces Berkeley in the Nor-Cal playoffs. Having lost to them the last two years in the Nor-Cal quarterfinals and semis, respectively, Oak Ridge faces them in the Nor-Cal title game, which was the last time they defeated them in 2010.
“It seems like we’ve played them the last five years,” White said. “They know us and we know them and now we’ll see what we can do. It’s pretty amazing.”
Hoffman added, “It’s really exciting to be playing in the Nor-Cal final. It feels great. No one expected us to get this far.”