The Ponderosa-Oak Ridge boys basketball rivalry has always been heated with tense games that go down to the wire. Friday’s game was no exception as the Bruins stormed back from 14 down in the fourth quarter and won 52-51 as Josh Hufford converted a 15-foot shot at the buzzer for Ponderosa’s first victory against the rival Trojans since 2009.
The Bruins also spoiled Oak Ridge’s Senior Night.
“We played all night as a team, and even though we were down by a lot, we never gave up, and simply executed,” Bruin coach Andy Beal said after the emphatic win.
Oak Ridge seemingly had the game in hand with 6:20 left in the fourth quarter after a Matt Howard layup put Troy up 45-32 but after Curtis Opsahl made a routine layup, Ponderosa’s deep game lit up. The Bruins had missed six of their seven three-point attempts in the game to that point but Jacob Bist put through two consecutive treys and Hufford followed with one of his own to pull the visitors within 45-43.
After an Oak Ridge free throw and layup, Chris Snyder, who led all players with 19 points, sandwiched two layups around a Howard score to get Ponderosa within three points with 1:34 left. Both teams struggled to score, however, as the 50-47 score remained the same with 20 seconds left. With Oak Ridge inbounding the ball with the ability to run the clock out, the Bruins fouled Bryan Bare for a one-and-one opportunity at the free throw line. Bare, who scored nine for the Trojans, made the first but missed the second, leaving Ponderosa with a slight window of opportunity.
With seven seconds left, Opsahl drained a deep three to cut the deficit to one and the Bruins fouled again. The foul was Ponderosa’s 10th, earning Oak Ridge two shots that both missed — giving Ponderosa one last chance. Oak Ridge had two fouls to give to prevent the Bruins from taking a good shot and after the first, Ponderosa inbounded the ball from the sideline beyond halfcourt with four seconds left. Hufford received the pass, squeezed past Howard who was trying to foul, pulled up and sank the dramatic 15-foot jumper to cap the improbable comeback.
“Being a senior playing in my last game as a Bruin, it was pretty emotional, and I left everything out there on the court,” Hufford said. “It’s a pretty great feeling.”
“We initially were trying to steal the ball off the inbound, but that didn’t work, so (Howard) was forced to try to foul (Hufford),” Oak Ridge coach Steve Scott said. “It was a great game and props to Ponderosa — this rivalry always brings out the best in both teams.”
Before the game, Oak Ridge’s five seniors: Howard, Scott Sanchez, Bryce Scott, Steven Hoffman, and Sean O’Donnell were honored with their families. After a fantastic rendition of the National Anthem by Oak Ridge student Rachel Travis, the two teams squared off.
Each team came out energized with evenly-matched play throughout the first quarter. Oak Ridge took a 8-6 lead with a Josh Simms steal and layup, but Snyder followed that with a bucket and foul. Snyder made the free throw, and Ponderosa took its first lead. For the next three minutes, each team had trouble scoring, with the highlight being Scott’s dribble and drive to the hoop through three Bruin defenders. After a Howard layup, Opsahl got a rebound after three missed shots and finally scored on the fourth try to even the score at 12 going into the second quarter.
Scoring was much harder to come by in the second quarter. Multiple chances continued to aid the Bruins as all three of their scoring plays were off of an offensive rebound. Bryce Scott, who led the Trojans with 17 points, put through a three-pointer, and a layup, with Simms adding a layup to give Oak Ridge a narrow 19-18 lead at the end of the first half.
Oak Ridge, with the playoffs on the line, took over in the third quarter. Led by Howard, who scored 15 points, and Bryan Bare, who scored eight of his nine in the quarter, the Trojans went on a 18-5 run, capitalized by Scott making a pull-up jumper while being fouled. Scott converted the free throw and Oak Ridge led 37-23 with 2:26 left.
After an Opsahl bucket, Scott Sanchez got a reverse layup to fall before Snyder put through a layup to get the deficit to 12. Scott countered as he drove the length of the court and knocked down a jumper at the third quarter buzzer to give Oak Ridge a 41-27 lead headed into the fourth.
In the fourth, after a Snyder layup, Connor Sende put through a layup of his own for Oak Ridge. Hufford, who hadn’t scored to that point, converted a three to jumpstart the Ponderosa rally in a sign of what was yet to come.
“Even though I hadn’t really contributed up to that point, I was confident in my shot, and I wasn’t going to pass up a good look,” Hufford said.
Though Ponderosa played its last game Friday things are looking up.
“We have a great core of juniors on the team, and we’re going to get a lot of kids who are JV right now up at varsity this year. (Snyder) is still only a sophomore, so he has a lot of time left,” coach Andy Beal said.
“We’ve come a really long way as a team, and I’m really optimistic next year will be a great year for us,” Opsahl, who is a junior, said.
Oak Ridge, on the other hand, still has a lot to be determined. Previously ranked 14th out of 16 in the area, the Trojans need to hope that they don’t drop out of the top 16 and miss the playoffs.
“If we had won tonight, I’d say it’s been a very successful season. It still can be, but we need some teams to help us out. If we manage to get in, we are a resilient enough team that I think we can do some real damage in the playoffs,” Steve Scott said.