By Dave Tomczak
Wiard certainly came through on Monday, scoring seven huge points in the final 2:47 to give Oakridge an exciting 42-37 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Division 2 regional semifinal action at Coopersville High School.
Wiard scored 11 of her team’s 13 fourth-quarter points, and finished with 24.
“The best way I can describe Sophia, is she wants the ball and she wants to take the big shot,” said Oakridge Coach Brad Tate. “She wants the ball at the end of the game, and wants the shot, expects to make it, and expects to win the game.
“I can’t ever say enough about what a special player she is.”
Oakridge, now 21-3, advances to Wednesday’s regional finals against Grand Rapids South Christian at 7 p.m. at Coopersville. A victory would send the Eagles to the state quarterfinals for the second straight year.
The Eagles ran out to an 8-0 lead to start the game, with Kayla Stewart scoring four early points, and led 10-8 after the first quarter.
Behind a 2-3 zone defense that forced the Cougars to settle for jump shots, Oakridge expanded its lead to 21-11 by halftime. The Eagles held GR Catholic to three points in the second quarter, which all came on free throws.
“We could not have played a better first half defensively,” Tate said. “But we knew at some point they were going to make a run.”
Trailing 27-15 early in the third quarter, the Cougars did just that. Jakarri Allen’s layup with 45 seconds left in the quarter capped an impressive 14-0 run that gave GRCC a 29-27 lead, its first of the game.
Wiard’s jumper with 35 seconds left stopped the bleeding and sent the game to the fourth quarter tied at 29-29.
The teams exchanged baskets and were tied 33-33 with 2:57 left.
Wiard hit one of two free throws to give Oakridge a 34-33 lead, then grabbed a rebound at the defensive end and was fouled. She drained her next two free throws to give the Eagles 36-33 edge.
The Cougars attempted three shots on their next possession but came up empty, and worse yet, allowed Wiard to grab the rebound.
She proceeded to dribble around the Cougar defense for a full 40 seconds before they were able to foul her.
“I’ve been doing that since sixth grade,” Wiard said. “I knew that they would have to foul me. I’m not ready to be done playing with my teammates. We grew up together and we’re not done yet.”
Wiard made four of four free throws in the final minute, and Stewart’s two free throws with 29 seconds left gave Oakridge a 42-34 lead, which was more than enough to seal the victory.
Wiard had eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Stewart totaled seven points and Halle Jennings grabbed 10 rebounds for Oakridge.
Allen had 12 points for the Cougars (15-7) and Hawkins scored 11.