Hitting on four of six free throws in the final 49 seconds and withstanding Ponderosa’s fourth-quarter three-point barrage, the Oak Ridge boys basketball team stayed just beyond the Bruins’ grasp and held on for a 64-60 victory to close the Delta River League regular season Friday.
The Trojans held a 15-point third-quarter lead at one point and were up 52-43 early in the fourth before Ponderosa made its last run, starting with Griffin Fontana’s three. The Bruins cut the deficit to three points on three occasions, the last with four seconds left. Fans departed the packed El Dorado Hills gymnasium exhausted after the tense intra-county battle.
“Another typical, traditional rivalry game,” said Oak Ridge coach Bob Christensen. “It’s what we needed to have … a close game before the playoffs. It’s nice to control our own destiny. We felt (going in) if we win we’re in (the postseason) so we’ll be on the road Wednesday for our opener.”
Friday’s matchup didn’t resemble two teams that combined had one win in the prior 12 games. Much like the first encounter in Shingle Springs, the two went at it in tense fashion. Each time it appeared Troy would pull away, Ponderosa responded behind its deadly perimeter shooting. Overall, the Bruins sank 11 three-pointers, six in the second half.
A fadeaway three from Taylor Bybee and his pull-up two ignited a 14-4 Ponderosa run to close the third quarter as the Bruins were within 44-40 with a quater left.
Bryce Scott’s dish to Scott Sanchez opened the fourth for Oak Ridge and Will Findlay added a free throw as the hosts pushed their lead back to seven. Bybee’s three from the wing closed the gap before DJ Leszczynski converted a midcourt steal into a 3-point play and Sanchez scored inside. With 4:30 left, Fontana nailed a corner three and Bybee went in for a tough shot and resulting free throw as the Bruins fought back. A foul on Findlay sent him to the line for two successful makes and the Trojans came right back with Sanchez’ give-and-go with Morgan Elmachtoub.
A Ryle Miles free throw stopped Troy’s run with 2:42 left but Oak Ridge’s John Cunningham flashed inside and made a clutch catch of Scott’s corner pass for a 58-50 advantage.
“It was a great pass by Bryce and I was able to get to the rim and finish,” Cunningham said. “It’s always tough against them (Ponderosa) but we came out with a win and hopefully we can carry the momentum into the playoffs.”
With time dwindling, Zacc Williams got to the foul line and made both and Miles stepped in for an outside jumper as the Bruins refused to go away. After Scott drove in for two, Miles drilled a corner three with 57 seconds left to pull Ponderosa within 60-57. The Bruins quickly fouled Cunningham who made 1-of-2 and, after a Ponderosa miss as Oak Ridge blanketed the arc defensively, Scott hit 2-of-2 free throws before Cunningham blocked a Bruin shot out of bounds.
With just four ticks left, Williams connected on a corner trey and Leszczynski’s free throw with four tenths of a second to play closed the scoring.
“We started hitting our shots in the second half,” Bybee said. “We knew as seniors this was our last game so we gave it all we had.”
Offensively, Leszczynski bucketed 14 points to lead Troy; Scott added 10; Findlay scored nine; Sanchez, eight; Simms, seven, including a 30-footer at the first-quarter buzzer; and Elmachtoub, six points. For the Bruins, Miles led with 18 points; Bybee had 14; Williams, 10; and Travis Fisher, Fontana and Trevor Hammitt each tallied six points.
Oak Ridge finished the regular season with a 21-5 record, 5-5 in league while Ponderosa went 2-20, 0-10.
“I very proud of the kids’ effort. Having had the adversity we’ve had it wouldn’t have surprised me had our seniors not shown the level of effort tonight but we challenged, had heart and played good basketball too,” first-year Bruin coach Andy Beal said. ‘We had a horrible record but we weren’t a horrible team. We happen to be in the toughest league in the section and I told the underclassmen that if they come back and demonstrate the same qualities this year’s seniors had we should be pretty good. I’m looking forward to getting back at it.”
Prior to Friday’s tip-off, the Trojan program acknowledged its senior class of Findlay, Simms, Leszczynski, JT Tulabut, Elmachtoub and Cunningham.