OAK RIDGE NORTH — Oak Ridge is one step closer to a fifth straight district championship.
The Lady War Eagles took care of business at home on Saturday, holding off Grand Oaks 50-42 in a battle for sole possession of first place in District 13-6A.
Grand Oaks won the first matchup between the teams, 55-53, back on Jan. 6. That was the first-ever meeting between the programs and snapped a six-game winning streak for Oak Ridge.
“We knew we could play better against them than we did at their place,” Oak Ridge coach Deidre Vasquez said. “I guess that was the No. 1 thing — we felt like we needed to prove that we’re better than we played two weeks ago at Grand Oaks. We were just hungry, and we knew that if we won this game, we control our destiny. If we didn’t, we put our destiny in other people’s hands.”
Oak Ridge (20-3, 6-1) can clinch the outright 13-6A crown by winning its final three games against Conroe (home), The Woodlands (away) and Willis (home). They beat all three in the first round.
Raniyah Lewis poured in a game-high 21 points for the Lady War Eagles on Saturday, and Nikki Petrakovitz added 11. Petrakovitz is aiming for her fourth district title in four years.
“Nikki has been preaching to them that this is her fourth year on varsity, and the other three years, she’s won district, so we want to keep it going for her senior year,” Vasquez said. “We’ve been talking about it for a while, but now it’s here, and it’s good to see us get out there and execute things that we’re talking about, especially defensively, and fight for a win when it was ugly at times out there.”
Saturday’s victory also marked career win No. 350 for Vasquez, who also had coaching stops at Madisonville and Conroe before taking over at Oak Ridge in 2014.
“I see coaches post their numbers about their wins, but I just have never really been focused on that,” Vasquez said. “I guess it makes me just kind of reflect back on all the awesome teenagers that I’ve had a chance to be part of their lives and coach them and hopefully help them on their path to being adults.
Despite the loss, there was a bright spot for Grand Oaks (14-5, 5-2). The Grizzlies clinched their first-ever playoff berth when College Park defeated The Woodlands on Saturday. Grand Oaks wraps up the regular season with games against College Park (away), Conroe (away) and The Woodlands (home).
Abigail Christensen led the Grizzlies with 14 points, and Kaitlyn Stewart added eight.
“You just forget about this game and move forward,” Grand Oaks coach Shiakiea Carter said. “That’s all there is to it. We’ve got three games left, so we just have to keep our eyes on the prize.”
Oak Ridge took control of the game early on as Nikki Petrakovitz connected on a layup and jumper on consecutive possessions to give her team a 15-4 lead. After scoring the first basket of the game, Grand Oaks did not make another shot until the 3:24 mark and turned the ball over seven times.
“Our goal was to set the tone for the game,” Vasquez said. “We came out flat at College Park (on Wednesday), and we missed some shots early and got down 11-3 at one point. We just can’t afford to not come out ready to play every game, so we preached to them about that, and they came out and executed. I think it was just confidence and knowing we need to do that if we want to win.”
The Lady War Eagles led 18-9 at the end of the opening quarter and remained ahead for the duration of the second. The Grizzlies got themselves back into the game, however, and cut the lead down to one possession at 22-20 with 1:45 remaining as Keandra Allen converted a layup. Oak Ridge committed eight turnovers during the period, but still reached halftime with a 27-20 advantage.
Grand Oaks remained within striking distance throughout the third quarter and entered the final frame trailing 37-36, thanks to a 3-pointer from Stewart with 17 seconds on the clock. The Grizzlies were within one possession for most of the fourth quarter, but could never quite break through to take the lead. Clutch baskets from Allison Owens and Petrakovitz down the stretch helped Oak Ridge seal the win.
“It’s just paying attention to detail,” Carter said. “Rebounds, taking care of the ball and just not executing on offense. … The thing about it is you’ve just got to keep playing, no matter what. We just have to stay in the moment and have to keep playing through every possession.”