MERCED — Oak Ridge High’s attempt at a game-winning shot bounced off the rim at the buzzer as the Trojans lost a 50-49 heartbreaker to host Golden Valley to open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs Wednesday.
Oak Ridge had its opportunities including an eight-point lead at 40-32 after three quarters and left Merced feeling it should have won. Coming in, Troy was 3-0 in playoff games against the Cougars.
“We came down here to win so while I’m proud to get here I’m disappointed we lost,” Oak Ridge coach Steve Scott said. “We did everything we wanted to except make inside baskets. ”
Golden Valley’s comeback spoiled a huge night for post Tyler Hatten who scored a game-high 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots; and a solid night by Grant Dean who had 14 points.
“This was my best game but if we could have made some of those shots around the basket that we missed — we win,” said Hatten whose three-pointer enabled the Trojans to lead by eight going to the fourth.
The Cougars quickly turned the tables in the fourth to narrow their deficit. After the hosts scored seven straight to come within 40-39, Dean converted a 3-point play and later two free throws as Troy maintained a four-point lead.
Golden Valley pulled even at 45s on Christian Carrol’s trey and went up as Joshua Sykes took a steal coast-to-coast for a jam. Dean found Hatten inside to tie and Oak Ridge was primed to move ahead but Hatten lost grip of the ball on what should have been an easy score.
Turnovers cost Oak Ridge, especially in the fourth. Equally haunting was its inability to convert around the basket as Scott and Hatten eluded to earlier. Overall, the Trojans had a dozen misses on a variety of close-range shots.
With the score 47-47, the Cougars came out of a timeout with 57 seconds left to set up Carrol who stuck a 25-footer for three points and the lead. Oak Ridge got two of those back as Connor Sende rebounded a miss, was fouled and sank both foul shots.
Turning to their defense, the Trojans almost forced a 10-second violation and survived as Golden Valley missed the front end of a one-and-one with 17 seconds left. Josh Simms rebounded and Oak Ridge forewent a timeout as it came down for its final shot.
Several passes took valuable time off the clock on a possession that ended with Dean squared up and a defender on him. Dean’s outside shot looked good at the onset but bounced off the rim as Cougar players and fans broke into celebration.
“You have to tip your hat to Golden Valley … they made the shot they needed while we just missed ours,” Scott said.
Sykes had 19 points in his matchup with Hatten. Carroll’s 14 points included big shots: the eventual game-winner and another three at the first quarter horn from half court. Cougar Evan Stillahn added 10 points. For Oak Ridge, Simms and Sende each supplied four points; and Matt Battaglia, Brogan Cooper and Jared Casey-Holland each had two.
The Trojans trailed 18-12 after the first quarter but opened the second with an 11-0 run to lead 27-22 at the break.
“We had it but we didn’t make our layups,” a dejected Simms said after the game. “We felt confident as the game went but it just slipped out of our hands.”
Oak Ridge finishes with a 15-14 record.