By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
SHELBY – On paper, the Oakridge-Shelby girls basketball rivalry should be cooling off a bit this year.
The two teams have been fighting for West Michigan Conference supremacy for the past few years, and they shared the league trophy last winter.
But Oakridge is off to a 9-1 start this season, while Shelby has fallen off a bit with a 4-4 record.
None of that mattered Tuesday. Oakridge kept pulling ahead and the stubborn Shelby Tigers kept fighting back, leaving the outcome in doubt until the final seconds.
In the end Morgan Giddings made the difference for Oakridge.
Her three triples in the first three quarters helped the Eagles maintain the lead, then her two free throws with 11 seconds remaining allowed Oakridge to escape with a hard fought 45-42 victory.
Giddings finished with a game-high 21 points, with eight coming from the charity stripe.
“This is a rivalry – there’s no doubt about it,” said Oakridge Coach Terry DeJonge, whose team inproved to 6-0 in conference play. “There’s Christmas, Thanksgiving and beating Shelby. Those are the three things I enjoy.
“I always say that Shelby is the league favorite, mostly because of their history. They didn’t back down. They thought they were going to win this game. I didn’t think for a second we wouldn’t get their best game.”
Oakridge came in to the game a heavy favorite, and kept showing signs of pulling away throughout the contest.
The Eagles jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, before Shelby fought back and made it a four-point game at the first buzzer.
Oakridge opened up a 21-12 lead in the second quarter but Shelby managed to narrow the score to 21-17 at halftime.
“The bad thing about the first half is that we left 14 points out there on missed layups,” DeJonge said.
A 10-2 run in the third quarter gave the Eagles a 33-23 edge, but Shelby answered with a 9-2 run and trailed by only two after three quarters.
The same script was played out in the final quarter. A layup by Sam McGhan and a three-pointer from Hannah Reinhold gave Oakridge a 40-33 edge.
But a pair of buckets by Jozilyn Kinstner, a three-pointer by Chloe Sillman and a layup from Tristen Moore pulled Shelby within a point, 43-42, with 17 seconds remaining.
Oakridge was forced to seal the victory with free throws. Giddings missed two in the final minute, but nailed her final two with 11 seconds left to put the game away.
Three-pointers proved to be the difference for the Eagles, who outscored Shelby 18-9 from beyond the stripe. Giddings and Reinhold each hit three triples for the winners.
Reinhold finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Giddings added eight steals.
“We made just enough of them to get that lead back,” DeJonge said of his team’s three-point attack. “The three-pointers were definitely the difference in the game.”
Oakridge was hurt by cold shooting, hitting only 13 of 51 shots from the floor. But Shelby was crippled by 25 turnovers, including 15 in the first half.
“Our girls really sucked it up and fought back – they just couldn’t get over that hump,” said Shelby Coach Sarah Wolting, whose team is now 4-2 in the league. “The girls really wanted to win this game. They were very focused. They are really strong-headed girls.
“We’ve had our ups and downs because we’re young – we have three sophomores and only two seniors, but I think this is our turning point. We’re ready to play at this level.”
Moore paced Shelby with 15 points while Sillman added 10. McKenna Inglis grabbed 11 rebounds for the Tigers and Kinstner had four assists.