By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
SPRING LAKE – It’s hard to say who beat the Oakridge basketball team Wednesday night – Coopersville or Oakridge itself.
The Eagles played well enough in the first quarter, battling the Broncos to a 16-16 tie.
But turnovers were a problem all night for the Eagles, and their shooting went from hot to cold in the second quarter and never came close to recovering.
By the time it was over, Oakridge came out on the short end of a 64-41 decision in Class B district semifinal action at Spring Lake High School.
Oakridge finished the season with a 9-12 record. Coopersville, 13-8, advanced to Friday’s title game against Spring Lake, which defeated Whitehall 51-30 in the other semifinal.
“They came out with good intensity and smothered us with us with their defense, they knew what we were going to do offensively and we didn’t make the adjustments,” said Oakridge coach Tracy Ruel, whose team was shorthanded because a starting player was late to school and ineligible to play.
“Matchup wise, with our bench being as short as it was, I couldn’t get into some of the things I wanted to do, but they beat us up and down the floor all night long.”
For the Eagles it was the end of an up-and-down season. They managed to play close to .500 ball for most of the campaign, despite the loss of two key players early in the year for disciplinary reasons.
The future certainly looks bright for Oakridge, which had four juniors, five sophomores and a freshman on its 13-player tournament roster. That means Ruel will have a lot of experienced players to work with next winter.
“We’ve got a young team,” Ruel said. “Austin Wright (a senior and leading scorer) did a lot for us this season, he was our go-to player, but we should have a real good nucleus coming back next year.”
Oakridge looked very competitive for the first eight minutes Wednesday. Junior Brock Luttrull hit three triples to help the Eagles battle to a 16-16 tie. And they looked like they would produce plenty of points, hitting 6 of 10 shots from floor.
But turnovers were a nightmare for the Eagles from the opening tipoff – they had seven in the first quarter, 13 in the first half and 29 for the game – and they lost their shooting touch in the second quarter.
They made only 1 of 12 shots from the floor in the quarter, and their only basket came with 46 seconds remaining.
Coopersville, meanwhile, found its offense in the second quarter, outscoring Oakridge 21-8 to take a 37-24 halftime lead. The Broncos shot well throughout the game, hitting 14 of 28 field goal attempts in the first half and 12 of 21 in the second.
It was more of the same in the third quarter, when Oakridge only managed to score six points and Coopersville opened up a huge 57-30 lead.
While many of Oakridge turnovers were unforced, the Eagles also struggled with the Bronco’s full court press and tough zone defense that allowed little penetration. One key was holding Wright, the Eagles’ leading scorer all season, to 12 points, four under his per-game average.
A lot of the turnovers tuned into easy transition baskets for the Broncos.
Coopersville coach Pete VanKampen, whose team beat Fruitport by one point in the first round of the tournament Monday, was much happier with his team’s performance Wednesday.
“We ran really well tonight,” he said. “We attacked the basket. Against Fruitport we were kind of passive and didn’t attack very well. They struggled with our press, and our back guys really didn’t give up anything even if they beat it. I was really happy. It was probably the best overall game we’ve played all season.”
Aaron VanKampen paced Coopersville with 17 points and seven rebounds.