Kennedy High School girls basketball player Lynette Johnson remembers the expansive venue, the screaming fans, the big stakes.
Most of all, she recalls the fatigue.
"On a scale of one to 10, that game was an 11," Johnson said of last year's Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game between Kennedy and Oak Ridge at Sleep Train Arena. "It's by far the most memorable game I've played in.
"But at the time, all I could think about was how tired I was. I kept telling my teammates, 'Let's not let this go into overtime because I don't know if I can make it.' "
Not only did the game go into overtime, it took two overtimes for Kennedy to beat the Trojans 62-58.
Johnson tied the score 54-54 with a buzzer-beating putback to force the second overtime. Then the 5-foot-10 guard-forward's three-pointer with 1:05 to go gave Kennedy the lead for good at 60-58. She finished with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Jenn Hoffman, then an unsung Oak Ridge sophomore, matched Johnson with 24 points, including six three-pointers. Her two free throws with 5.1 seconds left sent the game into the first overtime 49-49.
"Whenever you get a chance to win a championship, it's a special experience, even if losing leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Oak Ridge coach Steve White said. "What I remember most is that we were a half-second from victory and Lynette gets an offensive rebound and putback. I also remember how amazing it was watching Jenn try to will her team to victory."
The teams meet again at 7:30 tonight in another high-stakes game, the D-I semifinals at Pacific.
Many of those who played in last season's championship game are back, including the do-everything Johnson she's eight points shy of 200 career playoff points and the 5-4 Hoffman, still a dangerous outside scoring threat.
It's a matchup of two of the area's top girls programs and two longtime coaches, White and Kennedy's Dave Parsh, who got to know each other while commuting to master's degree classes at Saint Mary's more than a decade ago.
"That was back when I was considering pursuing a college coaching job," said Parsh, who has taught at Kennedy since 2000 and has been the girls head coach for four seasons. "That was before I decided family life took precedence, that I couldn't go around the country traveling and living that kind of lifestyle."
White's Oak Ridge teams have made the playoffs all 18 seasons he has coached at the El Dorado Hills school. His teams have won three section titles, and his 2010 team, led by Stanford's Sara James, upset nationally ranked Long Beach Poly for the CIF state championship.
Parsh also has won three section titles two at St. Francis and last year at Kennedy and coached a state championship team 20 years ago at St. Francis.
Both coaches say they are fortunate to work at schools with strong traditions and support staffs and smart and fundamentally sound players. And they often win without a plethora of players who go on to play at Division I colleges.
Johnson (Utah State) and Oak Ridge senior forward Haley Anderson (UC San Diego) are the only players from this season's teams who have signed NCAA letters of intent.
Oak Ridge has had eight consecutive 20-plus-win seasons, including 25-3 this year. The Trojans' only losses have been to national No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana, national No. 6 Pflugerville of Texas and Bay Area power Heritage of Brentwood.
Kennedy, which has had six 20-plus-win seasons in the last eight years, is 23-5. The Cougars have lost to Division II section semifinalist Sacramento twice and NorCal powers St. Mary's of Stockton (top-seeded and opposite Oak Ridge and Kennedy in the D-I bracket) and Salesian of Richmond.
The Cougars also lost 55-50 to D-III finalist Christian Brothers in the Oak Ridge tournament in December, preventing an anticipated Kennedy-Oak Ridge championship finale.
That loss has made tonight's game even more intriguing.
Oak Ridge is led by Anderson, who had 23 points in the Trojans' 52-37 quarterfinal win over Monterey Trail, and Ali Bettencourt, a 5-10 junior guard who had 22 points in a 68-29 win over Bella Vista in the playoffs opener.
"It's going to be a tough game," Johnson said. "Steve White is an amazing coach. His teams are always so disciplined and fundamental. And the way they lost last year it was such a tough loss I know they want to beat us."
Johnson will get no argument from White.
"Lynette is an amazing player, but she also has great support, which makes them so tough," White said of Kennedy's team, which includes 6-1 Dalayna Tyler-Scott, Jessica Lauderdale, Katie Lee, Arica Ng and Sidney Owen. "They can shoot the lights out, they're fundamentally sound and play good defense. You can see Dave's stamp on everything they do."
Johnson, who has suffered three concussions during her prep career, just hopes it's not another double-overtime thriller.
"When that was all said and done, the fatigue, the pain, the injuries, it was all worth it," Johnson said of last year's game. "But I'd rather not do that again."