OAK RIDGE NORTH — The four playoff teams from District 15-6A have long been decided. But on Tuesday night, the final day of the regular season, there was plenty on the line.
Klein Collins (22-9, 13-3), the defending district co-champion, wrapped up its season on Friday night. That left Oak Ridge (28-4, 14-2), Conroe (18-15, 12-4) and Klein Oak (20-8, 13-3) to settle the rest. The potential for a four-way tie for first place and the district title loomed, but the Lady War Eagles made sure that was not going to be the case.
Oak Ridge prevailed with a 62-52 home victory over Conroe, locking up the outright district title and the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. The Lady Tigers, meanwhile, will be the No. 4 seed after the loss, combined with a Klein Oak victory over Klein Cain on Tuesday.
“The past three years, we were co-(champions),” Oak Ridge coach Deidre Vasquez said. “Last year, we were bound and determined — ‘No co-, no co-’ — that’s what we kept saying. Well, we ended up co-champions. Some of these seniors played backup roles for a couple of years, so it was so nice to see them not get mad and transfer schools. They stayed here, they worked hard, they believed in the coaches, they believed in each other, they loved each other, and it’s great to see this happen for them because they waited their turn.”
Oak Ridge also won the first matchup against Conroe, 54-44, back on Jan. 10. The Lady War Eagles entered the night with a share of the district championship already in tow, marking the fourth consecutive season in which the program has accomplished that feat.
The four playoff teams from District 15-6A will take on District 16-6A opponents in the opening round early next week. Those matchups will be determined in the coming days.
Conroe is headed to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the program made four straight appearances from 2006 to 2009.
“It’s always good to know going into the last game that this isn’t the last one,” Conroe coach Tamisha Houston said. “You get to play for your third season, and us having that already established well ahead of the last game, I think that’s something we can be proud of. ... This is the first time we’ve been to the playoffs back to back in a long time, so that’s a huge accomplishment in itself because sometimes we kind of get overlooked. So us being able to do that and maybe start a tradition, I think it’s good for our kids and fans.”
Nikki Petrakovitz poured in a game-high 17 points for Oak Ridge, coming off the bench and giving her team a boost. Malade Hollis finished with 13 points, also off the bench, and Kayla Alfred added 10. Mersadez Nephew chipped in with nine points.
Kennedy Powell scored a team-high 16 points for Conroe. JaKayla Bradford finished with 10 points, Sarah Sewell had eight, and Lilly Rodel and Tiarra Howard each added six.
The two teams battled closely in the first half, particularly in the opening quarter when neither team had a lead larger than three points. Conroe went ahead for the first time at the 3:06 mark on a 3-pointer from Powell and finished with a 12-11 lead.
Oak Ridge got rolling in the second period, knocking down five of its first six shots. That allowed the Lady War Eagles to pull ahead and create some separation. The home team led by as many as eight points at 22-14 following a jumper from Hollis.
Conroe kept its composure, however, and got back into the fight. The Lady Tigers outscored their opponents 9-4 over the final three-plus minutes of the period and walked into the locker room down by only three points at 26-23.
“Something we talked about at halftime was that we turned the ball over at the top where our defense had no chance to get back to defend it, so we basically gave them points,” Houston said. “So it was us making mental mistakes, and I think fatigue got the best of us a little bit. They just made some shots. We knew they could shoot it from the outside, but I think we did a pretty good job of contesting shots and rotating on defense in the first half. We just couldn’t keep it up the entire game because we play very few people.”
Oak Ridge continued its hot shooting in the third quarter, pulling ahead by as many as 12 points on two separate occasions. The first came on a 3-pointer from Petrakovitz with 2:40 remaining, and the second came on a layup by the junior guard with 27 seconds to play. The Lady War Eagles finished the period with a 47-35 advantage.
Oak Ridge held Conroe at arm’s length throughout the final period to ice the victory.
“I feel like we just got back and protected the rim better,” Vasquez said. “The second half, we didn’t spread our defense out as much, and I think that made a big difference. That allowed us to stop their driving, because they would get the ball without even thinking and go to the rim and try to draw fouls. It was successful, and it’s why they were within three of us (at halftime). We had to fix that flaw, and I think we did it with the way we played defense in the second half.”