Led by a feverish home crowd and the play of senior guard Josh Simms, the Oak Ridge Trojans avenged last year’s devastating loss with a 50-40 victory over the visiting Ponderosa Bruins.
“It was a huge win for us. We came out strong and in rhythm. We’re confident and know that we can beat anyone when we play to our strengths,” said Simms, who led the Trojans with 17 points.
The gym was packed-full with Oak Ridge’s “Blue Crew” and the Ponderosa “Loud Crowd” as dozens more watched from outside. Simms started off the game with a nice drive to the basket but Bruin Jacob Bist came right back and answered with a three-pointer. After another Simms score, Matt Battaglia found Tyler Hatten for a wide-open score.
Both teams then heated up from beyond the arc. Battaglia hit paydirt and after Bist knocked down another, Conner Sende connected from deep. With 1:09 remaining, Bryan Bare buried a trey but with: 36 left in the period, Josh Bist answered and the quarter ended with Oak Ridge holding a 15-9 lead.
“We’re a better defensive team than we were last year. We tried to rotate on their shooters. When we rotate right and rotate quickly, we’re a pretty good defensive team,” Trojan coach Steve Scott said.
Simms opened the second quarter with a double-clutch soaring drive and after a Sende layup, Oak Ridge led 21-11. Ponderosa remained resilient and fought back as Chris Snyder (19 points) made a 3-point play and after a Trevor Hammitt jumper, the Bruins only trailed by eight. Simms knocked down two foul shots to give the hosts a 26-16 lead at the break.
Hatten opened the second half with his second block of the night and followed with a lay-in. Simms added a three-pointer and Sende put in layup followed by a deep three to give Oak Ridge a 36-16 lead. Behind Snyder and Hammitt, Ponderosa ended the quarter on an 8-0 run to get within 12.
After another Hatten score, Hammitt connected on a three-pointer, and Snyder a putback as the Bruins pulled to within nine in the fourth. Bare and Snyder traded off scores before Hatten (11 points, six rebounds) put it away with a spinning layup and fast break hoop to push the lead to 46-31. Synder and company ended the game on a 9-4 run but it wasn’t enough.
The win avenged a crushing home loss to the Bruins last year when Josh Hufford capped off a 14-point comeback with a buzzer-beater.
Oak Ridge (3-2. 13-9) now looks to win their next two games to clinch a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Ponderosa (0-5, 8-14) is making notable improvements every game in what has been a rough first year for coach Troy Selvey.
“It’s a rivalry game, and our team never showed any quit. The by-product of that is us getting consistently better and improving as a basketball team. That shows our maturation in our program. It’s our first year, but what we’re looking for is really starting to seep in and the kids are starting to do the things that we as coaches are trying to get out of them,” Selvey said.