Breaking from a one-point advantage with a 9-0 run in the final three minutes Wednesday, host Oak Ridge High put away upset-minded McClatchy 53-43 on the middle night of the annual Trojan Toss-Up Tournament.
After the Lions had pulled to within 44-43 on a pair of free throws, Bryce Scott drove baseline for a 3-point play, hit a pull-up jumper and after two DJ Leszczynski freebies, Scott closed the scoring with another two from the foul line to secure the victory and a date against Folsom in the finals.
“That’s what we needed — anything we can learn from this to help us prepare for league,” Oak Ridge coach Bob Christensen said about the tight game. “In that situation we want to win the quarter (fourth) and win the game. We played ugly, we played poorly, but we still came away with a victory.”
Troy (13-0) almost came away with its first loss of the season. While McClatchy’s Jeff Ota was a prolific scorer during his prep days, his task, as coach of his alma mater, was to figure out how his Lions could stay with the third-ranked Trojans. He succeeded as McClatchy effectively slowed the tempo and hung around — even grabbing two fourth-quarter leads. Their downfall in very unOta-like fashion, was foul shooting — the Sacramento team made just 6-of-18.
“We tried to slow the game way down because we knew we couldn’t run with them and we couldn’t shoot with them,” Ota said.
Neither team scored for nearly four minutes of Wednesday’s game until Nick Mar hit from the wing to put the Lions on the board. That triggered an Oak Ridge response that came when Leszczynski stuck a side jumper and Will Findlay flew in for a follow shot and then converted a bank shot. Findlay, who led the Trojans with 18 points, was a tough guard for McClatchy and came back with a difficult reverse before Matt Howard scored on a break-out and Scott took his defender off the dribble for a 12-7 lead after eight minutes of play.
The Lions clawed their way back in the second quarter. Scott Sanchez found Findlay behind the defense for a dunk and Leszczynski hit Findlay again on the block before Diandre Duncan’s buzzer-beater pushed McClatchy to within 24-20 at the break.
“They (Lions) had a switching defense that confused them and I was able to get the ball down low and luckily make most of my shots,” said Findlay who also threw one down in the second half. “This is one of the toughest games we’ve had but we stepped it up in the fourth and closed out well.”
Scott came out in the third looking for his shot and scored seven points. Oak Ridge extended its lead to nine points twice in the quarter but McClatchy didn’t buckle and sent the game to the fourth tied at 35-all after Troy Ota swished a three from the wing.
In the final quarter it was anyone’s game but Scott scored another seven points and the Trojans executed late to rein in the victory.
“I wasn’t aggressive in the first half but wanted to be in the second and had more confidence,” Scott said. “We didn’t come out with the first punch tonight but we’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Scott (nine rebounds) finished a point behind Findlay with 17 while Leszczynski added nine points. Defensively, Sanchez and John Cunningham put the clamps on McClatchy’s Shawn Smith and held the Lions’ leading scorer (18.3 points per game) to just four.
In Tuesday’s first round game, Oak Ridge downed Elk Grove 64-35 behind Tyler Simms’ game-high 22 points, including five three-pointers, and 16 from Scott. In-your-face defense set the tone as the Trojans jumped out to an early lead and coasted to the finish line.