By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
SHELBY – The quest for the West Michigan Conference girls basketball title got a lot more complicated Friday night, as the Oakridge Eagles (17-1, 12-1) downed the host Shelby Tigers (15-3, 11-1), 48-36.
The Eagle win avenges an earlier loss to the Tigers, and now, with a week left in the regular season, Oakridge holds at least a share of the conference title; the Eagles face Mason County Central Tuesday to finish the league schedule.
Shelby, which plays rival Hart and Whitehall next week, is looking to grab at least a share of the conference title as well.
“I told the girls yesterday, ‘Shelby came down to beat us last time,’” said Oakridge coach Terry DeJonge. “I said, ‘We’re going up there to beat them this time.’ That’s the end of the line right there, that’s the statement. When they came down to (Oakridge), they beat us, they handled us, they hit some shots. So we went up here on a mission to beat them.”
It was a tough start for both teams, as they combined for 5-of-27 shooting across the first quarter. Despite missing their first eight shots, the Tigers used a tough defensive game plan to stay in the game.
Oakridge led 10-7 after one.
The shooting improved considerably in the second, with both clubs settling down into a half-court game. Oakridge, however, taking advantage of its superior team speed, caused three-consecutive Tiger turnovers, converting them into seven points as part of a 12-2 mid-quarter run. Shelby recovered in the waning minutes of the half, scoring six of the final nine points to cut the lead to five, 24-19, at the break.
“Really, both teams in the first half didn’t shoot very well,” said Shelby coach Sarah Wolting. “But what kept us in it was our defense. I knew if we worked on defense, we would be in the game. In the second half, they started to make their shots and got a little hot, and we weren’t getting to their shooters.”
After trading baskets over the first five minutes of the third, the Eagles suddenly took control of the contest behind the shooting of junior guards Morgan Giddings and Almanda Molter, who hit back-to-back three-pointers to push the lead back to 10.
On top of that, the Eagles, who are substantially shorter than Shelby (the Tigers started three girls over 6-foot), controlled the boards, particularly on the offensive end, giving them several second- and third-chance baskets.
“Things were a little too physical for us,” admitted Wolting. “They pushed us and we became out of control. “
Oakridge led 35-28 heading into the fourth.
Once there, Giddings took over, scoring her team’s first seven points of the frame, going on to contribute 10 of her squad’s 13 fourth-quarter points, including going 7-for-11 from the free-throw line in the fourth.
Coach DeJonge was proud of the way Giddings controlled the tempo and seized scoring opportunities when they presented themselves to her.
“She was remarkable,” said DeJonge. “When she has the ball, as a coach you feel pretty comfortable focusing on other things. Obviously there are a lot of things to this team, but (Giddings) brings that element that when the ball is in her hands, we all feel pretty confortable.
Giddings led all scorers, finishing with 25 points while pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds, honors she shared with teammate Keyara Wiard. Teammate Ashley Weaver added 10 points.
Shelby was led by senior Michelle Brown, who scored 14, with junior Tristen Moore adding nine points. Senior center Sydney Czurak scored just five points on the night, but collected a team-high eight rebounds in the loss.
Oakridge 48, Shelby 36
Keyara Wiard 1 3-4 6, Almanda Molter 1 0-0 3, Morgan Giddings 6 10-14 25, Sam McGhan 1 0-2 2, Megan Larabee 1 0-0 2, Ashley Weaver 3 3-4 10. Totals 13 16-24 48.
Corina Collier 1 0-0 2, Chloe Sullman 0 2-2 2, Jozilyn Kinster 1 0-0 2, Abby Rodriguez 1 0-0 2, Michelle Brown 7 0-1 14, Sydney Czurak 2 1-2 5, Tristen Moore 4 1-4 9. Totals 16 4-9 36.
Three-point field goals: Wiard, Giddings (3), Molter, Weaver. Total fouls: Shelby 21, Oakridge 13. Fouled out: Moore, Rodriguez. Technical fouls: none. JV: Oakridge won.