By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
WHITEHALL – It happened in a flash.
At the 5:34 mark of the second quarter at Friday night’s Class B district final game at Whitehall, Spring Lake’s Kelsee Zuidema banked in a layup to pull her team within two points, 15-13, of favored Oakridge (22-1).
As far as everyone in the gym was concerned, this game could have very well come down to the final shot.
And yet, just a mere 14 seconds later, Spring Lake senior Captain Jewel Wiersma picked up her third foul of the half, forcing Laker coach Rich Hyde to sit his most potent offensive weapon.
“I was trying to avoid taking her out, to weather that storm for as long as we could,” said Hyde. “Wiersma is our main go-to offensive player, so I was trying to keep her in another 30 seconds or so after she got her second foul. But then she got her third. That’s on me for not getting her out of there. But we started feeling it slip away from us.”
Even worse for the Lakers, Wiersma’s absence seemed to spark the Eagle offense, unleashing an 11-0 Oakridge run to finish the half. Keyed by a three-pointer from Oakridge’s Morgan Giddings, teammates Keyara Wiard and Megan Larabee took the baton completed the run to put up their team 26-13.
From there, the Eagles never looked back, earning the team’s fourth-straight district title in the 45-28 victory.
Next Tuesday at Central Montcalm, the Eagles will face Sparta, which knocked off Fremont 43-19.
At around the time the Eagles pulled away, Oakridge head coach Terry DeJonge, noticing his squad starting to fatigue, retreated from the Eagles’ very effective full-court press into a 2-3 zone.
“I don’t think we would go 2-3,” explained DeJonge, “but they started hurting us inside. And that opened up more boards for us. The girls wanted to pull off the press a little bit. I thought they were working so hard on one end that going full court was kind of working against (us). I was only planning to take it off for a little bit, but we went on a run and didn’t need it.”
For Spring Lake (6-14), the Oakridge change in strategy was a roll reversal.
“They went to start playing our game,” said Hyde. “They took the press off, they started to slow the game down, and that was our goal going in. We started spreading things up, and that caused us some turnovers.”
Wiard was a force all over the floor, getting her team off to a strong start with a seven-point first, and capping off the final frame with six to finish with a game-high 20 points.
“She’s determined,” said DeJonge. “She made some difficult shots, but not shots she hasn’t made before. Even though I didn’t always like the shot selection at the time, she nailed them. It’s not like it’s her first time trying those shots. She’s pretty good.”
However, it wasn’t all golden for the Eagles. The team, typically very strong from long-range, shot just 4-for-23 from beyond the arc.
“The bottom line, (teams) are going to dare us to hit the three,” said DeJonge. “We’ve got to hit more of those, we can hit more. But the one thing it does, though, is open us up for the offensive rebound. All of a sudden, our quickness can get to those offensive rebounds. We won’t live by the three, or dying by the three, but we are better than that. Especially when we have such open looks.”
Wiard rounded off her impressive 20-point performance with 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists. Teammate Giddings finished with 11 points, five boards and three assists, and Sam McGhan added four rebounds in the win.
Wiersma and teammate Kelsee Zuidema both finished with a team-high eight points to lead Spring Lake.
Oakridge 45, Spring Lake 28
Keyara Wiard 9 2-3 20, Aliza Olsen 1 0-0 3, Morgan Giddings 4 1-4 11, Sam McGhan 1 1-1 3, Megan Larabee 2 1-2 6, Ashley Weaver 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 5-10 45.
Sierra Gipson 1 0-1 2, Brittany Beeler 1 0-0 3, Molly Miedema 0 2-2 2, Megan VanDeWeg 1 1-6 3, Jewel Wiersma 4 0-0 8, Tori Tober 1 0-0 2, Kelsee Zuidema 4 0-3 8. Totals 12 3-12 28.
Spring Lake 9-4-7-8-28
Three-point field goals: Beeler, Olsen, Giddings (2), Larabee. Total fouls: Spring Lake 18, Oakridge 12. Fouled out: None. Technical fouls: None.