By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Jounal
MONTAGUE – Prior to Tuesday night‘s West Michigan Conference clash between host Montague and Oakridge, the question posed throughout the area wasn’t whether Montague would challenge the Shelby Tigers for the league title, but that perhaps Oakridge was ready to pass Montague as the Tigers’ main threat.
Consider that question answered, at least for the time being.
Montague dominated the boards 32-15 and outscored the Eagles 34-21 in the second and third quarters combined to come away with the dominating 65-46 victory.
“I’m happy,” said Montague head coach David Osborne, following the win. “I know that we played one of the first-place teams in the league. To come out and be ready to play … you know, teams are always sluggish after Christmas break. We took a lot of rest and tried to heal up over break. The rest seemed to do us good.”
While Oakridge entered the game with an unblemished conference record, the Wildcats took a 73-67 loss to Shelby on Dec. 11, putting them at a distinct disadvantage if Oakridge kept winning.
So Tuesday’s game was critical to both teams, which was clear early on by the play of Oakridge’s Francis Decker – who opened the game with three-straight 3-pointers – and Montague’s James Boerema, who scored seven in the first while also grabbing four offensive boards, including one sequence where he pulled down three offensive rebounds in a row.
Soon enough, Boerema’s teammates got into the act – including forward Brandon Stine, who had nine first-half points, and guard Luke VanBoxel, who had six points in the first 16 minutes – putting together a 9-2 run to start the second.
Montague led 29-16 at the break.
Oakridge struggled all night to take advantage of its opportunities, yielding 6-for-28 shooting across the first half and 17-for-59 from the floor for the game.
“You can’t shoot 7-of-16 from the free-throw line and expect to be in games,” said Oakridge coach Tracy Ruel. “You can’t miss 15 layups and expect to stay in ball games. ”
The Wildcats owned the third. Propelled by a sudden rush of momentum in the middle of the stanza, VanBoxel’s steal and subsequent hustle layup resulted in an “and 1,” and ignited a series of three-straight Montague three-point plays that pushed the Wildcat lead to 22. That gave the hosts a commanding 50-32 lead after three.
“(Montague) kind of did what we wanted to do: They went hard to the basket, drew the contact and finished,” Ruel said. “We kind of settled for the outside shot early on in the game.”
Although Oakridge’s full-court trap gave the Wildcats fits at the start of the fourth, Montague senior Chase Casebolt, who started the second half with a rare four-point play conversion, finished things off with 14 second-half points to finish with 17 and lead all scorers.
“We just want to make sure these guys are jump-shooters second,” said Osborne. “Get to the basket, get to the free-throw line, then we know our shots are coming. You see what it does for Chase Casebolt. We’re driving to the basket, driving to the basket, and there’s Chase standing out there wide open. And the kid can drill it.”
A thunderous Brandon Moore alley oop dunk with less than 2 minutes remaining put an exclamation point on the proceedings, as the Montague kids chanted, ‘This is our house!’
Moore finished with 12 points, while Casebolt dished out five assists.
Boerema had nine points and 15 rebounds.
For Oakridge, Decker finished strong with 15 points, six rebounds and six blocks, with Mike Eacker pouring in 11 and Austin Wright adding seven points and four assists.
Montague 65, Oakridge 46
Joey Warren 1 1-2 3, Jordan Wahr 2 2-4 6, Francis Decker 5 0-0 15, Austin Wright 3 0-0 7, Brock Gonyon 1 1-2 4, Chez Lazarock 1 0-0 2, Mike Eacker 4 3-8 11. Totals 17 7-16 46.
Spencer Morse 1 0-0 3, Brandon Moore 5 2-4 12, Brandon Stine 4 1-2 10, Luke VanBoxel 3 3-7 9, Chase Casebolt 6 3-3 17, James Boerema 4 1-2 9. Totals 23 10-18 65.
Three-point field goals: Decker (5), Wright, Morse, Stine, Casebolt (2). Total fouls: Montague 14, Oakridge 13. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none.