Kory Johnson is used to looking up to his opponents.
At 6-feet, 1-inch, when he is standing straight up, Johnson's role for Davis High starts and ends inside the paint, where he's asked to go shoulder-to-shoulder with much taller foes every game.
So when Oak Ridge came to town Friday night with a lineup capable of giving you a 6-7, 6-6 inside look, Johnson didn't blink.
The senior forward scored 17 points, and when teammates Edwin Castellanos and Donte Walker added 17 and 16 points mainly from the outside, the Spartans found themselves advancing in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 playoffs with a come-from-behind 67-63 win.
"I'm used to playing against bigger people, and I've been hearing all week that tonight was going to be a tough challenge for us because of how tall Oak Ridge was," Johnson said. "But to me, Enochs was bigger than this team.
"The height thing wasn't the challenge. The challenge was that Oak Ridge was well-coached and ran good plays, so I think it was hard playing defense against that offense."
Next for Davis (24-4) will be a battle with Merced, with much more at stake than the Spartans' current 19-game win streak. The game will be played Tuesday at University of the Pacific (time to be announced this afternoon) and the winner not only will earn a spot in Thursday's section semifinal at Arco Arena, but also will claim a berth in the NorCal regional tournament.
For much of the game it looked as if Oak Ridge (16-12) might be the team headed for Stockton. The Trojans ran their half-court offense with effectiveness, and while Johnson and forward Lance Castaneda were good at keeping the ball from Oak Ridge's 6-7 center Will Findlay, it left openings for senior guard Zack McMillen.
He responded by scoring 13 of his 21 points in the first half as the Trojans built leads at large as 10 points before settling for a 39-31 halftime lead. Davis, for its part, never came out of the sagging zone.
"You could become disappointed because they made shots against us, but we stayed with it," said Davis coach Dan Pacheco.
Davis was able to stay in the game because the Trojans, despite being noticeably slower, were determined to stay in a full-court trapping press. The Spartans not only beat the press easily for baskets, but were in the double bonus just 11 minutes into the game because of the fouls Oak Ridge committed while pressing.
"Their press was hard," Castellanos said. "They stayed with it, but we just tried to split the pressure and were able to pass the ball up the court against it."
The Trojans went to token man-to-man pressure in the second half, but the wear and tear of playing the press against a quicker team began to show late in the third quarter.
Walker's 3-pointer brought Davis within 49-45 at the end of the third quarter, and when he and Castellanos turned back-to-back steals into 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter, Davis was in the lead with a full head of steam.
Oak Ridge's final lead came at 60-59 with 1:33 remaining. That's when Johnson showed how big his game is, getting inside to pick up a foul and hitting two free throws. After the last of the Trojans' seven fourth-quarter turnovers, Johnson again attacked and put in his own miss for a 63-60 lead.
When Castaneda grabbed a rebound off an Oak Ridge miss, Davis was able to ice the win at the line, with Laron Thompson's free throw with 21 seconds remaining, giving the Spartans a 67-61 lead.
"The game is 32 minutes long, and we always believe we can get to people in the fourth quarter," Pacheco said. "That's where Oak Ridge ran out of gas and where we won the game."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.