Playing in a Division I field it had heard about and read about and even observed from afar, Oak Ridge High School not only tested the large school waters for the first time in girls basketball, it left a sizable wake.
The top-seeded Trojans of El Dorado outlasted two-time defending champion Kennedy, seeded third, 64-50 in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship tonight at Arco Arena.
Oak Ridge rolled to the D-II title a year ago and coach Steve White now has three section titles, with the others coming in 2003 in D-III and last season.
Testament to Oak Ridge's overall balance and talent is the fact that prep All-American Sara James was shutout in the first half, missing five shots and turning it over three times against a defense geared to contain her. But Oak Ridge still led 26-21 at the half, thanks to defense and the hot hand of Caitlin Welsch, who scored 15 of her team's first 22 points and had 17 total and seven rebounds.
But to understand James, the superb senior wing headed to Stanford, is to understand her competitive drive. She scored 12 in the third, on spin moves and three-pointers and finished with 15.
What's more, she inched up the all-time section playoff career scoring list with a late free throw. Her 291 career section playoff points moved her into third place behind all-time section greats Kellie Cook of Nevada Union (graduated in 1991) and Jackie Germelos of St. Mary's (2006).
And it was James who carried the section banner off the Arco floor, her second in a decorated four-year career that now includes four trips to the NorCal regional tournament.
Carly Bettencourt and Natalie Jones had 12 each for Oak Ridge, and Leslie Leong led Kennedy with 20.