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Trojans ready to go deep into playoffs

By: Matt Long/Telegraph Sports Editor
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Despite suffering an upset loss to archrival Ponderosa on Friday, Oak Ridge High’s varsity boys’ basketball team still qualified for the postseason. In fact, the Trojans (14-12 overall) only dropped one spot in the seedings, falling from 12 to 13, but coach Steve Scott is just fine with it. “It actually worked out better for us to be 13th because we had scouted West (their first-round opponent) last Friday night,” Scott said. “Losing to Ponderosa didn’t hurt us playoff wise, but it hurt our pride.” Scott was busy gathering and compiling information about Merrill West on Sunday. The Wolfpack finished the year in second place behind McNair in the Tri-City League with an 8-2 record. West, located in Tracy, enters the playoffs with a 22-5 record. “I’m glad that they’re not from the Sacramento area so they aren’t as familiar with us,” Scott said. “We need to continue to work on the things that we do and hopefully we’ll shoot the ball better.” One thing the Trojans have going for them is that they’re battle tested. After playing Sheldon, Jesuit and Pleasant Grove twice, three of the top teams in the Sacramento area, they are used to facing good teams. “The beautiful thing about our league is that as hard as it is to make the playoffs, if you’re fortunate enough to get in, you’re used to the playoff atmosphere and you’re used to facing tough opponents.” Oak Ridge travels to West tonight for the 7 p.m. game. If Oak Ridge wins, it will either travel to Vallejo to face fifth-seeded Bethel on Friday night or play host to 12-seed Granite Bay. Obviously, Oak Ridge will have to play better and with more of a killer instinct against West than they did against Ponderosa on Friday. A 14-point fourth quarter Trojan lead gradually slipped away, as Ponderosa suddenly lit ablaze and began drilling outside shot after outside shot. After shooting 11-of-35 and 0-for-8 from three through the first three quarters, the Bruins exploded on 10-of-15 shots, including a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond the arc. Josh Hufford hadn’t even scored until the fourth quarter. With the Trojans leading by one with four seconds left, the Ponderosa forward broke free from a Trojan defender, pulled up for a 15-foot jumper that fell true and gave Ponderosa its first Delta River League victory, 52-51, stunning the Oak Ridge faithful, especially the ones celebrating senior night. “I knew as soon as it left his hand, it was going in. I don’t know how to explain it. I hate to be cliché, but everything really just slowed down,” said Scott Sanchez, who had four points and seven boards in his final home game. “We let our guard down, we thought that Pondo wasn’t going to come back from the lead we had. That kind of mindset let them back in. It’s all on us.” The fourth quarter flurry began with Ponderosa, down 14, getting 3-pointers from Hufford and Jacob Bist that cut the deficit back to single digits. The run continued with two more threes from the same two Bruins that made it a two-point game at 45-43 Oak Ridge. With under a minute to play, Bryan Bare gave Oak Ridge a four-point lead at the free throw line just before Curtis Opsahl nailed the fifth Ponderosa 3-pointer of the quarter, making it 51-50 with seven seconds left. Pondo fouled immediately and two missed free throws set the scene for Hufford’s game winner. “I have to take my hat off to Ponderosa. They made key defensive adjustments and hit all those threes and that clutch two. But that’s the way basketball is sometimes,” said Scott. “We played a great third quarter and just broke down in the fourth. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.” Ponderosa answered a third quarter where Oak Ridge outscored them, 22-9, with a fourth quarter in which they outdid the Trojans, 25-10. Chris Snyder led the Bruins inside with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Hufford finished with eight and eight, respectively. Scott led the Trojans with 17 points and seven boards as fellow senior Matt Howard added 15 points, four rebounds, four assists and four steals. Nick Pecoraro contributed to this story.