Local Sports Journal

Whitehall nearly let a 13-point fourth-quarter lead slip through its hands Thursday, but managed to escape with an exciting 64-61 victory over Oakridge in a West Michigan Conference basketball matchup.

The Vikings got off to a great start and took a 22-10 lead after one quarter. CJ Watson led the opening charge for Whitehall, scoring eight of his 16 points in the first quarter. Keenan Aylor also stepped up with seven of his 16 points in the run.

“A lot of it was we were beating their pressure and finding the open man,” said Whitehall Coach Nate Aardema. “We settled in and worked our press breaker, didn’t dribble, and we were able to break their press.”

Whitehall led 35-23 at halftime and 53-40 to start the final quarter.

That’s when the game got tight. The Eagles’ late¬†comeback was led by Hunter Benson’s seven points. Benson finished with a game-high 19 points.

The Vikings hurt themselves by missing four of six free throws down the stretch.

Nate Wahr’s deep 3-pointer with under a minute remaining cut Oakridge’s deficit to a single possession, 64-61. After a Whitehall turnover on the next possession, the Eagles had one last shot to tie but rimmed out.

Wahr finished with 14 points for the Eagles.

“We know with Oakridge, they’re going to work and they’re not going to roll over,” Aardema said. “And the fourth quarter was a great learning lesson about pushing the gas a little more. But even better to learn and get the win.”

Whitehall improved to 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the conference. Oakridge fell to 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the league.