BAKERSFIELD – Four consecutive years, Long Beach Poly has won a state championship game. But four consecutive years, the Jackrabbits never faced anything like Sara James.
Almost single-handedly – she scored 20 of her team's 29 first-half points – James denied Poly its run at history. El Dorado Hills Oak Ridge scored a stunning 55-42 victory to win the Division I title at Rabobank Arena.
The Jackrabbits were trying to become the first team in state history to win five consecutive titles, and they held a 13-7 lead. But from that point on, it was all Oak Ridge.
Only two teams had beaten Poly (31-3) this season, Mater Dei and Brea Olinda, which have spent the season among the top four ranked teams in the nation. Poly went into the game ranked No. 5 by ESPN Rise. Oak Ridge (32-3) had a victory over Brea early in the season.
“We didn't have a good game,” Poly coach Carl Buggs said. “We didn't shoot the ball very well. We just had a bad game today. We missed some shots we normally make, we hesitated a little bit and when you hesitate it throws you off your rhythm.”
Poly had four players trying to win fourth consecutive state titles, sisters Brittany Wilson (seven points) and injured Ashley Wilson, who will continue their careers at Colorado, injured Thaddesia Southall (USC) and Jazzmine Shirley.
Sheila Boykin, Poly's outstanding junior, was only two for 10 from the field and finished with four points. “We were somewhat intense, but we were not Poly intense,” Boykin said. “We came out really good. . . . Later on, there were more aspects that stopped us, not getting defense rebounds, not boxing out, letting them go backdoor, not making shots.”
Poly shot only 29 percent from the field, making 14 of 48. They committed 19 turnovers while forcing 20.
Tajanae Winston scored 13 and Ta'nitra Byrd scored nine for the Jackrabbits. They were a combined eight of 12; the rest of the team was six of 36.
Meanwhile, Oak Ridge made 15 of 30 for the game, including five three-pointers.
Oak Ridge led at halftime, 29-23, behind James' 20 points. She scored only four in the third quarter, but her two free throws with two seconds left made it 38-34.
With four fouls, she left the game with 6:41 remaining, and Poly tied the score at 40-40 on Boykin's turnaround jumper with 5:08 left.
It was Poly's last field goal, and the Jackrabbits – who own most fourth quarters – wouldn't score again for another 4:13.
Natalie Stone made a pair of free throws, and Dakota McLarnan made the biggest shot of the night, a three-pointer with 3:38. It was McLarnan's fourth, setting a championship game record. With a 45-40 lead, the Trojans called timeout and put James back in the game.
Less than a minute later, Carly Bettancourt threw up an improbable shot over her shoulder for a layup that made it 47-40 lead with 2:52 left. Game over.
“We had a great run, won four in a row, and we would have liked to have made history,” Buggs said. “It didn't happen.”