Deer Valley High senior Kendall Smith didn't start the game so well, but he finished it just fine.
The clutch player scored on an acrobatic drive with 12 seconds left, giving the No. 1 seeded host Wolverines a thrilling 54-52 win over No. 4 Bellarmine College Prep-San Jose on Tuesday in the semifinals of the Northern Regional Division I playoffs.
Enjoying the best season in school history, Deer Valley (26-5) will face Pleasant Grove in the NorCal championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
After Smith's basket in the final seconds, he stole the ball near midcourt and drew a foul with 4 seconds to go. He missed both free throws, but the Bells' Danny Schatzman missed a desperation shot falling out of bounds near the left corner at the buzzer.
Deer Valley big man Marcus Lee (12 points) battled foul trouble throughout the fourth quarter after getting fourth foul with 4:36 left, but others stepped up.
Bellarmine's excellent 3-point shooters gave them a fighting chance.
Jackson Gion paced the Bells (21-10) with 19 points, including five of the Bells' seven 3-pointers.
After Deer Valley led 49-43 with 5:30 left on a Kenny Robinson layup, the Bells went on a five-point run with Lee on the bench, capped by a Gion 3-pointer with 3:13 left.
Robinson was called for a controversial offensive foul in the lane with 2:31 left, with the Wolverines clinging to a 50-48 lead.
Jack O'Hara, who had eight of his 10 points in the second half, tied it for Bellarmine with a layup, then the teams exchanged two free throws apiece to set the tone for Smith's winner.
Grant Vermeer contributed 13 points for the Bells, and the Wolverines Nsimba Webster (12 points) was at his ball-hawking best pressuring the Bells into turnovers.
Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills 51, Heritage 50: The Patriots got one last defensive stop in the closing seconds to earn a win over host Heritage in the Division I Northern California regional semifinals on Tuesday.
Heritage trailed 51-48 when it forced a turnover with 10.1 seconds remaining. Inbounding on its side of the court, the Patriots could not get the ball to sharpshooter Lexi Campbell, who was heavily guarded. Erin Asher took the open lane for a layup in the final second, but the Patriots fell one point short.
"We didn't make the plays. They made the plays. They made the free throws," Heritage coach Dan Swan said.
Oak Ridge was 17 for 25 from the line, including 7 for 8 in the final quarter. Heritage (26-6) was 12 for 23 from the free-throw line in the game.
Oak Ridge (28-4) could not stop Sabrina Engelstad, however. The Saint Mary's College signee scored a team-high 22 points.
Ali Bettencourt scored a game-high 23 points, including five 3-pointers, for Oak Ridge. She had eight points in the fourth quarter.
Oak Ridge scored the first six points of the game, then Heritage had a 17-0 run over the next 7 minutes, 10 seconds. But Oak Ridge ended the half with a 19-4 run.
Engelstad had a double-double with a game-high 13 rebounds. Asher had 13 points and Sydney Berry had 11 points for Heritage.
-- Phil Jensen