SHINGLE SPRINGS — The annual meeting between Oak Ridge and Ponderosa boys basketball teams is always a hard fought grudge match to the wire.
That notion held true Tuesday inside the Bruins’ gym as the visiting Trojans escaped with a 46-44 win on the Bruins’ Senior Night and Delta River League finale. The win also clinched a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoff berth for Oak Ridge (5-5, 15-12). Ponderosa honored its five seniors on the team: Curtis Opsahl, Trevor Hammitt, Jacob Bist, Nico Bruks and Matt Culver.
Oak Ridge held a comfortable 35-27 lead entering the fourth quarter and extended as Grant Dean made a layup, Josh Simms a free throw and Matt Battaglia knocked down a jumper to give the visitors a 40-27 advantage. But the Bruins started their rally after a pair of Chris Snyder free throws, Trevor Hammitt made a three-pointer and two Josh Bist free throws to trim the lead to 40-33,
Following two Dean free throws, Battaglia had a right-place, right-time putback but again the Bruins roared right back, as Snyder made a layin plus the foul, and converted from the charity stripe. Snyder then won a scuffle for the ball and found a wide open Jacob Bist in the corner for a three-pointer that pulled the Bruins within four points at 44-40.
Snyder (14 points, 11 rebounds) made another bucket to cut the deficit to two points and after a Simms free throw, Snyder was good on a spin move to the basket as the hosts pulled to within one of tying. Simms collected an offensive rebound for Oak Ridge and knocked down a free throw, setting up the final sequence wth six seconds left, Ponderosa inbounded and ran up the court. After a couple of passes, Jacob Bist found himself open in the corner, but the shot rattled off the top of the backboard, ending the game.
“The key to us is defense; we live and die by our defense,” Oak Ridge head coach Steve Scott said. “Tonight they did a great job of knocking shots down, and that’s credit to (Ponderosa). They’re just clutch.”
The Bruins got off to a hot start, as Bist nailed a three to open the game followed by an Opsahl layup. Oak Ridge fought back and tied the game on a Simms drive to the hoop plus the foul. After a Hammitt layup, Dean was good from three-point land as Oak Ridge led 10-9 entering the second quarter.
Connor Sende got the second quarter started off well for Oak Ridge as he pickpocketed a Bruin guard and ran the length of the court to finish with a two-handed dunk. Dean followed with a layup but a Bruks layup and Hammitt free throw cut the deficit to two.
Then Simms (17 points) took control with a drive and spin to the bucket and preceded with a jump shot that gave Oak Ridge an 18-12 lead and after a pair of Sende free throws, Simms found Sergio Quilici for a score as the Trojans led 23-14 at halftime.
Oak Ridge led 27-19 at the five minute mark of the third quarter. After a Jared Casey-Holland block, Simms knocked down a three-pointer off an inbounds pass with two seconds on the shot clock. A Hammitt free throw and a Marcus Forbes jumper erased the trey, but Simms came right back down and made a straight-on, three-pointer, followed by a Dean jumper. Jacob Bist made a layup plus the foul for Ponderosa (0-10, 8-19), and Snyder was good on a short hook shot, setting up the exciting and heart-throbbing finish.
The success of this year’s Trojan team is helped greatly by two freshmen, Battaglia and Casey-Holland, and juniors who are playing their first year on varsity.
“It’s very impressive that they’re playing at this level,” Simms said. “They’re still learning obviously, but playing in an atmosphere like tonight will help them down the road.”
But right now the Trojans are looking toward the first round playoff game.
“The road doesn’t mean anything to me, I don’t think it means anything to us. We’re going to play hard no matter where we’re playing,” Scott said.
Bruins first-year head coach Troy Selvey talked about the imprint this year’s seniors will leave for future classes.
“Their ability to allow me to come in and to buy into what it is we want to do and where we wanted to go is unmatched. We wouldn’t have been in the position we were tonight if it weren’t for them,” Selvey said.
Hammitt, a four-year varsity who finished with nine points, added. “I’ve been through a lot with this program; I’ve been through three varsity coaches. I wouldn’t change anything, though. I’ve grown as a man going through this program. This is a tough loss, but I’m going to take the leadership qualities that I learned from this program and go on in my life.”