By Scott Warden
Mother Lode News correspondent
After a thrilling victory over El Camino the night before the Oak Ridge Lady Trojan basketball team rolled into the finals of the Trojan Toss-Up looking for a sixth straight title and seventh overall.
“This was been a strong tournament with tough competition this year,” Oak Ridge coach Steve White said before the championship game. “Our opponent tonight, Christian Brothers, was the sixth-seeded team but that’s who we’re playing this evening. We know we’ll need to play smart and keep our composure over the game along with rebounding and having overall good fundamentals.”
The first eight minutes of the contest could not have been better for the Trojans as the defending state champions just about ran the Falcons out of the gym. But the next three quarters were a different story as Christian Brothers fought back and cut the once huge Oak Ridge lead to six over the final seconds of the game. But Oak Ridge did maintain composure and held on to win the title 64-58.
“We are glad to win tonight but when we have the chance to close the door and shut down opponents our team needs to do that,” senior point guard Carly Bettencourt said. “As a team we know we can do better making open shots and rebounding — that just makes things easier for us.”
The Trojans the got those rebounds in the first quarter, forced turnovers with steals and hit their open shots. Natalie Stone, who had six assists, eight points, six rebounds and four steals helped ignite Troy’s fast start. Two minutes into the game Stone made a steal and passed to a wide open Dakota McLarnan for a three, the first of 16 points on the night for the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
On the other end of the floor Haley Anderson, who had eight rebounds and 14 points for the night, pulled down a board with authority and passed out to Bettencourt, who on a fast break, passed up to McLarnan at the top of the key.
The guard drove the lane and passed off to Lauren Sende in the paint for a lay-up, three and a half minutes into the game. The basket gave Oak Ridge a 9-4 lead on the way to an 18-5 run. At the end of the quarter the Trojans had a dominating 25-9 advantage.
The Falcons answered in the second with their own 10-2 run to put some pressure on the Trojans. But a steal by Kaitlyn Lendrum, who had 11 points on the night and was selected to the all-tourney team, helped reenergize the home team. The junior forward then buried two three-pointers to send Oak Ridge on a 10-2 run at the 2:30 mark. At the half Oak Ridge held a 41-24 lead.
The Trojans appeared well on their way to a victory in impressive fashion as they started the second half, but the Falcons just kept hanging around and chipping away.
“The Falcons gave us a tough time in the second half; we made turnovers and had some problems. We stayed aggressive though and continued to have good ball movement that got us shots, which was important the entire night,” McLarnan said.
Christian Brothers rallied in the fourth and with an 11-3 run, cut the Trojans’ lead to eight, 56-48, with 2:16 left in the game. But when Oak Ridge needed a basket, someone answered.
“Our team just answered their runs and made baskets when we needed to,” Stone said. “At times we needed to run plays, change the tempo of the game, and get rebounds which helped us win. I am excited about that.”
Over the last two minutes the Trojans got timely baskets from Anderson and Bettencourt to and withstand Christian Brothers’ comback.
Oak Ridge is on the road for a tough five-day tournament in Phoenix, Ariz. The boys Toss-Up tournament begins this week.