By David Tomczak
Local Sports Journal
Whitehall roared out of the gates of its Class B district game Wednesday at Orchard View, and then held on late for the victory.
Oakridge, trailing by as many as 13 points early, rallied, but missed three shots in the final five seconds as the Vikings held on for a 50-48 win.
Whitehall (9-12) advances to Friday nights district final at 7 p.m. against SpringLake at Orchard View. The Lakers reached the finals with a 51-33 win over the host Cardinals in Wednesday’s nightcap.
Isaac Love hit two free throws with 23 seconds left in the game to give the Vikings the 50-48 lead, leaving the Eagles with a chance to tie or win the game with a 3-pointer.
But after a timeout to set up a play, Oakridge was called for a travel with six seconds remaining in the game and it looked as if the season was over right then and there.
Whitehall, which had struggled getting the ball in against the Eagles pressure all game, threw the inbounds pass right to an Oakridge defender, who quickly put up a 6-foot jumper. That shot missed but the Eagles had two tip-in attempts that both rolled out, the second falling to the ground as the buzzer sounded.
“We were five seconds from feeling miserable,” Whitehall coach Nate Aardema said. “(Oakridge) is a good team and we knew it would be a battle.”
It wasn’t a contest early on.
Love scored 13 of his team-high 17 points in the first quarter as the Vikings opened up a 21-8 lead, eventually ending the quarter up 23-11.
“We ran some new (plays) that they hadn’t seen before,” the senior forward said. “(And) I was able to get some open looks and knock them down.”
Oakridge, however, continued to press the Vikings, and turned to its big man, Mike Eacker in the post, on offense.
Eacker scored 10 first half points, using his inside game to open up the Eagles’ offense.
“The press worked for us and got us back in to (the game),” Eagles coach Tracy Ruel said. “And we talked about getting the ball into (Eacker) early and once he was able to get his game going, it opened up the outside a bit.”
Oakridge (14-7) would outscore Whitehall 37-27 after the first quarter, and finally took it’s first lead since 4-2 after a Jordan Wahr 3-point play made the score 42-41 with 6:28 left in the game.
But the Vikings scored the next four points and maintained a 2-point lead until Eacker hit two free throws with :48 seconds left to tie the game at 48-all, setting up the dramatic finish.
“Oakridge put pressure on us and we really struggled with it,” Aardema said. “We got sloppy and made some mistakes and we have 24 hours to clean that up. But this is a great accomplishment from where we were at the start of the season to now.”
The Eagles finished the contest 13-of-19 from the free throw line while Whitehall was 10-16, including 4-of-7 in the fourth.
Love added five rebounds and three assists for the Vikings, Devontae Vance had 12 points, Matt Rohen scored nine and Matt Russell had six points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Eacker led Oakridge with 16 points and nine rebounds, Joey Warren scored 10, Francis Decker finished with nine points and Austin Wright added eight points with three assists.
WHITEHALL 50, OAKRIDGE 48
Oakridge 11 16 10 11 – 48
Whitehall 23 8 10 9 – 50
Joey Warren 4 2-2 10, Austin Wright 3 0-0 8, Mike Eacker 4 8-14 16, Francis Decker 3 0-0 9, Brock Gonyon 0 2-2 2, Jordan Wahr 1 1-1 3. Totals 15 13-19 48.
Frank Owens 2 0-0 4, Isaac Love 6 2-2 17, Matt Russell 1 4-6 6, Devontae Vance 5 0-2 12, Matt Rohen 2 4-5 9, Nick Decouto 1 0-1 2. Totals 17 10-16 50.
3-pointers – Wright (2), Decker (3), Love (3), Vance (2), Rohen. Total fouls – Oakridge 13, Whitehall 17. Fouled out – Russell.
Proud of this team!