BRENTWOOD — Ali Bettencourt exceeded her CIF NorCal scoring average Tuesday — barely — and the Oak Ridge High girls basketball team needed every one of them in its thrilling 51-50 win over Heritage in the regional semifinal game.
The victory sends Oak Ridge (30-4) to Saturday’s NorCal D-I final against Berkeley at Sleep Train Arena. Game time is 2 p.m.
The Trojans and Patriots traded leads throughout the first three quarters and the Patriots led 39-38 after guard Sydney Berry sank one of two free throws with 5:17 left. The lead changed for good as Bettencourt, who scored a team-high 23 points, sank two free throws with 4:53 to play.
“Everyone had their ups and downs but we had to keep it up and play strong,” Bettencourt said. “We kept our composure.”
Oak Ridge head coach Steve White added, “Ali had no fear. She has a lot of confidence. It doesn’t matter if she missed five in a row. She believes and that’s a sign of a good shooter.”
Bettencourt’s composure was evident when she nailed a three-pointer with 4:26 left to increase the Trojans’ lead to 43-39. Heritage guard Erin Asher cut the lead in half with two free throws.
After the teams traded possessions, Bettencourt knocked down another trey for a 46-41 lead with 2:45 remaining. Heritage did outscore Oak Ridge 9-5 the rest of the way — mostly on free throws.
Key to the outcome was Troy’s interior defense that limited forward Alie Ramirez and center Sabrina Engelstad to a combined 26 points and became stronger as time ticked away.
“We did a better job on defense,” White said. “I’m proud of the girls. They battled and fought and they listened to the game plan.”
Oak Ridge forward Haley Anderson (13 points) was clutch in making 5-of-6 free throws in the final minute. For the game, she sank 9-of-10 while the Trojans made 17-of-25 free throws and Heritage 12-of-23.
“It always comes down to the little things,” Anderson said. “We just rebounded and made our free throws.”
“Haley has been the glue that holds the team together,” said White of Anderson. “She made clutch free throws for us down the stretch.”
Heritage’s final shot came when Asher (13 points) drove into the paint to score a bucket with less than three seconds left. Asher looked to draw the foul but Oak Ridge backed off before celebrating its hard-fought win at midcourt.
The Trojans jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter but Heritage scored the next nine. In the second, the Patriots built their lead to 13-6 before Oak Ridge rallied behind Anderson’s free throws and two treys from Bettencourt, who had four in the game.
“In the first half, we kept (the ball) on one side and shot threes,” Anderson said.
The Trojans led 25-21 at halftime and 36-34 after three quarters.
Trojans guard Jenn Hoffman finished with nine points. Guard Lauren Liebert and forwards Shelby Peters and Jenna Ford scored two points each.
In winning, Oak Ridge avenged a 55-36 loss to Heritage earlier this season at the Campolinda Shoot Out.
“The last time, their guards picked us apart,” Anderson said.
This was the second consecutive season that Troy has defeated the Patriots in a NorCal game.
According to Sac-Joaquin Section assistant commissioner John Williams, it’s rare for a team that lost a section semifinal to roar back in the NorCal playoffs.
Saturday’s Oak Ridge-Berkeley winner will play the Canyon Springs-Long Beach Poly winner for the state title.
Contact Mike Bush at 530-344-5079 or [email protected] Follow @MBushMtDemo on Twitter.