The Oak Ridge girls basketball team moved into second place in the Delta River League standings all alone with a 53-44 victory over visiting Pleasant Grove Tuesday.
Flowers and tributes opened the evening’s festivities as seniors Dakota McLarnan, Stefanie Walberg, Alexa Pickett, Carly Benttencourt, Natalie Stone and Hayley Padua-Dean celebrated their final league home game of their varsity careers.
Final home game is not how Benttancourt sees it. “It’s not our last game here, we’re going to the playoffs,” she said. Describing the mood of the team at the opening tip-off, Benttancourt said, “We came out and hit a lot of our shots and Pleasant Grove had tons of fouls so we made a lot of points from the free throw line.
“We also hit our threes — thank God, we live and die by our threes. This has been a good year,” she added about following last season’s CIF State Championship. “It was a brand new team and we didn’t focus on last year. We set our own goals.”
The team was new, but so was the competition as the Trojans were realigned into the tough Division I Delta River League along with St. Francis, the only team in the league to beat them this season. Oak Ridge entered Tuesday’s game tied in second place with the Eagles, who wanted the win as much as the Trojans.
But Oak Ridge established dominance early in, racing out to a 15-10 lead after a quarter behind eight points from Stone, five from McLarnan and two from Jenna Klein. Stone and McLarnan both buried threes in the quarter, two of Troy’s nine in the game.
“We wanted to move up the floor quick and mainly we had to come out and rebound and box out their top players,” McLarnan said. “We sprinted the floor and did what we had to do.”
But there were two fast teams on the floor Tuesday — the Eagles stepped up in the second, scoring just one point less than the Trojans, whose 14 points included threes from Stone, Bettencourt, Katie Hoisington and Klein and McLarnan’s steal and coast-to-coast lay-up midway through the period. At the half Oak Ridge led 29-23.
After Pleasant Grove turned the ball over on a travel and shot clock violation to start the second half, McLarnan set the tone for Troy, passing out to Benttencourt for a trey to extend the lead. After two more Eagle turnovers, McLarnan converted on Haley Anderson’s steal and dish to her before Pleasant Grove found its offense with a 9-2 run to pull within two, 36-34.
With 56 seconds left Hoisington’s three extended Troy’s lead to five and after her steal that led to jump ball going to the Trojans, a miss on Troy’s end of the court and a scramble for the ball again went the Trojans’ way and they capitalized. There were 2.2 seconds left as Benttencourt inbounded to Stone, who cut through the middle and sank a lay-up to give Oak Ridge a 41-34 lead.
But the Eagles wouldn’t go away, taking advantage of three Oak Ridge turnovers and a missed shot with a 7-0 run to open the fourth and they tied the game at 41 on a pair of free throws at the 5:41 mark.
Anderson got Oak Ridge back on track with one from the line and Benttencourt intercepted a pass and dished to McLarnan who was fouled on her end-to-end sprint and lay-up attempt. She sunk both freebies and later drained a corner three on a pass from Kaitlyn Lendrum.
While Troy’s defense held the Eagles to a single free throw and one more bucket, Anderson and Klein were both 2-for-2 from the charity stripe to secure the victory.
Stone had a game-high 17 points, McLaran bucketed 14, Klein had seven, Benttencourt and Hoisington each chipped in six and Anderson scored three. Melissa Norman led the visitors with 12 points.
This is a tough league and several teams are capable of winning it all but St. Francis has been more consistent this year,” Oak Ridge coach Steve White said. “We were a little hungover (from winning the state title) at the beginning of the season, but we had some good ball games when we put four quarters together.
“Every year is different but it’s hard when every game we’re announced as the defending state champs — it’s hard to live up to. Senior Night is always emotional so we just hope to take care of business and have a couple of home games in the playoffs.
“We’ve still got Ponderosa ahead and that’s always a tough game,” said White, adding “I don’t think when we get to the playoffs that any of the top teams we’ll see are going to say they’re glad to have Oak Ridge.”