Oak Ridge's basketball season comes to an end

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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If Oak Ridge High’s varsity boys’ basketball team was anything this season it was tested. In what was a brutally difficult schedule, the Trojans were able to win 16 out of 29 games. When the area rankings were released before the season started, each of the top-10 teams were on Oak Ridge’s schedule. As a member of the Delta River League, the Trojans had the pleasure of playing three of those teams, Sheldon, Jesuit and Pleasant Grove, twice. Most of the team’s 13 losses came against good teams. The team’s season came to an end on Friday with a 74-59 loss to fourth-seeded Bethel in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. “For the exception of Ponderosa, which was a rivalry game in which anything can happen, every team that beat us was a very good team,” Oak Ridge coach Steve Scott said. “On top of having that difficult schedule is that these guys had a sharp learning curve. They had a new coaching staff and they had to learn a whole new system and philosophy. “They had goals of making it to Arco and they came up a win short, but they put so much into it and now the seniors pass that torch onto the underclassmen. We won a playoff game and it was the first time in a long time that we had a big upset win. That was the first step and next year we want to get that second win and get to the final four and have a chance to win that section title.” Oak Ridge opened the playoffs with a 60-54 upset win on the road at West. The key stretch against West came in the second quarter. Scott said that the Trojans started off a little nervous in the first quarter, but quickly shook off the butterflies with tough defense in the second as they turned a five-point deficit into a seven-point halftime lead. Matt Howard came up with a couple steals for easy buckets and sophomore Connor Sende added five quick points with a put-back and a 3-pointer to give the Trojans momentum. “That little stretch in the second quarter was unbelievable,” said Scott. “It was a huge confidence builder for us.” West’s high-flying athleticism and determined penetration brought the Wolfpack back into the game in the third quarter, making it a three-point game before the final period. Scott knew that a repeat of the team’s poor crunch-time free throw shooting against Ponderosa could not happen if they wanted to win in the playoffs. Senior leader Bryce Scott, who led the team with 25 points, six assists and eight rebounds, calmly sank five clutch free throws toward the game’s end to ice the victory for the Trojans, advancing them into the second round. The Trojans met their match with Bethel, a talented, athletic and deep team that proved they were just a bit better than Oak Ridge. Trailing by five at halftime, the Trojans were outscored by seven in the third quarter and never got closer than two points to the lead. “We got off to a slow start and battled back to five down by halftime,” Scott said. “We got to within two points with the ball in the third quarter, but couldn’t convert. Every time we made a run, Bethel would hit a big three or make a coupe of baskets. It was impressive.” Scott said his team played well and that the game was closer than the final 15-point deficit shows. “I’m proud of my guys,” Scott said. “They played hard and I think they just ran out of steam in the end. It was a seven-to-eight point game most of the way.” Scott led the way with 30 points, while Scott Sanchez added 14 and Howard finished with nine. Nick Pecoraro contributed to this story.