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Thrilling win over Deer Valley a team effort

By: Matt Long
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Perhaps Sara James said it best. Referring to the Oak Ridge’s 65-63 win over Deer Valley on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Northern California Division I basketball playoffs, the senior guard said, “that was way too close.” The win advances the Lady Trojans (30-3) to Saturday Nor-Cal championship game against top-seeded Berkeley (27-3), who defeated Kennedy, 52-47, in the other semi-final. After the thrilling win, which came with James’ game-winning layup with four seconds to play, the girls were thrilled to be heading back to Arco Arena, where was where Oak Ridge defeated Kennedy 64-50 on March 6 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship. “It’s amazing,” senior guard Kelsi Danciart said. “We didn’t win this game to lose next week so we’ll see what happens.” Fellow senior Caitlin Welsch said, “It’s so exciting. This is what we came to do and we want to go all the way.” James hit the game-winning shot, but lot happened before that, which helped the Lady Trojans win the game. Welsch tied up the ball with Deer Valley’s Nyaa Davis; just seconds after James missed two free throws with 10 seconds remaining. The jump ball gave the Lady Trojans a second chance to take the lead and James didn’t fail on the second attempt. With Carly Bettencourt in foul trouble most of the game, Dakota McLarnan received extended minutes and played a huge role in the win. Her role turned even bigger when senior guard Megan Griswold sprained her ankle late in the first half. On top of that, James picked up her fourth foul with seven seconds to play in the third quarter. Seconds later it was McLarnan’s turn to shine her brightest. With the Lady Trojans having blown a 13-point lead earlier in the quarter, the team hung tough with the revitalized Wolverines for the last few minutes of the third quarter before McLarnan drained a 3-pointer from the corner as the buzzer sounded to give her team a little breathing room, not to mention momentum, heading into the fourth quarter. McLarnan not only picked up some minutes, but also some of the scoring lost with Bettencourt on the bench, ending the game with 13 points, the team’s second-leading scorer behind James’ 28 points. “I give a lot of credit to Coach White,” McLarnan said. “He’s talking to me all the time about getting the right mindset in my head.” White agreed. “We’ve been harping on her all year, saying she’s got the ability to be that type of a player,” White said. “She had a good moment there.” Her teammates were proud of McLarnan’s play as well. “I just love Dakota,” Welsch said. “She always comes out and brings it hard and I’m just glad she had her A-game tonight.” McLarnan added, “It feels awesome to play well and reach the Nor-Cal finals. I can’t wait to play in that game and I hope to play like I did (against Deer Valley).” Oak Ridge won the game with James’ last second shot, but the team played an outstanding first half of basketball, leading 37-26 at the break. James had a huge first half, scoring 19 points, but it was the all-out hustle of everyone on the court that led to the 11-point lead at halftime. Any loose ball on the floor and the Oak Ridge girls were diving after it. Any errant shot off the rim or backboard and the Lady Trojans were all over it, especially at the offensive end when they scored many buckets on second and third chance opportunities. “Before the game we talked about that this is our last home game,” White said. “We needed to leave it all out on the floor and we did that with hustle and great effort.”