STOCKTON — Weston Ranch High opened Sac-Joaquin Section Division I play Friday with a hard-fought 75-73 victory over visiting Oak Ridge.
The No. 6-seeded Cougars (19-10) overcame a 17-point deficit early in the second half, coming back behind the efforts of Khristian Holmes, Richard Banks, Elliott Mobley and Elijah Mobley.
But No. 11 Oak Ridge (16-12) of the Sierra Foothill League responded with Noah Simula, Jack Gillingham and Ian Long, who tied the game at 71-71 with an inside turnaround.
With 36.5 left in regulation, Xavion Bell put Weston Ranch up by one with a free throw. The defense took it from there, forcing an Oak Ridge turnover with Elliott Mobley emerging all alone down court for an insurance layup.
The Trojans had one last chance but experienced trouble getting a clean look at a 3-point basket thanks once again to the Cougars' swarming defense.
"You got to tip our hats off to Oak Ridge. That was a tough game," said Weston Ranch coach Nicholas Podesta, who credited an early schedule loaded with quality opponents for getting his young team ready for games like this.
The Cougars also rallied for preseason wins over Antelope and Kimball. They'll face another team from their earlier schedule in Modesto Christian on Monday.
The No. 3 Crusaders, who scored an earlier win over Weston Ranch, defeated No. 14 Gregori, 74-55, and will host the Cougars in second round play.
"It was great to get that first win," said Holmes in the aftermath of the Oak Ridge game.
He led all scorers with 20 points. But it was his playmaking ability and free-throw shooting from the lefty junior guard that helped propel the Cougars' rally.
"We did what we had to do to get the win. We played to the best of our abilities," Holmes said.
On the defense side, Banks, who along with Elijah Mobley had 17 points each, had five steals and a block while making life difficult for the Trojan ball-handlers.
Elliott Mobley also delivered on both ends of the court with 19 points and five steals.
Nick Graves led Oak Ridge with 18 points. Long added 15, Jacob Olsen netted 13, and Willingham and Neal finished with 11 and 10, respectively.
Podesta used strength in numbers early on, doing wholesale changes to his lineup while attacking Oak Ridge with tenacious full-court pressure.
"We played 10 consistently during the game," he said.
The Cougars took an early 14-9 lead. The Trojans turned the tide, breaking the press with an assortment of backdoor cuts for quick baskets.
At one point, they outscored Weston Ranch, 20-9, in the first half while taking a 36-25 halftime lead.
Oak Ridge took some of that momentum into the second half.
"We had to adjust to what they were doing," said Holmes, who had a 3 midway through the third to help kick-start the comeback.
He found Elijah Mobley on the corner 3 and delivered a cross-court outlet pass to Banks, who found a cutting Elijah Mobley for the transition hoop.
Holmes hit another trey to make it a two-possession game.
Baskets by Elijah and Elliott Mobley kept the Cougars within striking distance entering the final period.
Free throws by Holmes and Banks momentarily put Weston Ranch ahead during the early stages of the fourth.
The game seesawed from there before Weston Ranch closed it out in the final seconds.
"This game could've gone either way," Podesta said.