By Nate Thompson
MONTAGUE — Tracy Ruel calls it “creating chaos,” and playing “almost out of control.”
In simple terms, the more the Oakridge varsity boys basketball team can force turnovers and get out in transition, the better the team tends to perform.
This was evident during the third quarter of Tuesday’s West Michigan Conference contest against host Montague. Ruel felt his Eagles squad amped up the pressure on the Wildcat guards throughout the third, resulting in a 13-4 scoring edge that spurred Oakridge to a 58-45 victory.
The win keeps the Eagles on the heels of league-leading Ravenna in a heated WMC race. Oakridge improves to 10-4 overall and 8-1 in league action, but trails the unbeaten Bulldogs in the conference race.
Oakridge will face Ravenna for a second time on Feb. 18 at home.
Montague, which trailed just 27-21 at the half, falls to 6-6 overall and 5-5 in conference play.
“We just came out flat (in the third),” Montague coach Dave Osborne said. “I have no explanation.”
Ruel credited it to a slight change in the Eagles’ defensive approach — trying to deny the ball to Montague point guard Asher Erickson and applying more pressure to the other Wildcat ball handlers.
“I could see Erickson’s face was still red after half, so I knew we had him,” Ruel said. “We challenged our guys at the half to get a low-scoring quarter defensively. To get the momentum swing going our way and to get a huge gap and separate ourselves. It was the same thing the first time we played. We had a big third quarter and (Montague) kind of fell off.”
A key sequence in the third involved Oakridge point guard Coco Watson. Operating in a full-court press, Watson used his speed to tie up Erickson on a jump ball, with the possession arrow favoring the Eagles.
On the following possession, Oakridge used good ball rotation to find senior Austin Fairchild alone in the corner for a three-pointer, giving the Eagles a 36-23 advantage.
“Coco was hurt at the beginning of the season, so he’s just starting to come on,” Ruel said. “I’m waiting for him to finish some of those drives at the basket. I believe we’re going to see him break out (offensively). But he’s the one that creates chaos with his speed. And he brings excitement with his passing and dribbling.”
Montague scored five quick points to start the fourth quarter, tallying more points in the opening 30 seconds of the fourth quarter than throughout the entire third. The Wildcats closed to 43-33 following a three-pointer by forward Chase Peterson with 6:50 to play, but the Eagles pulled away again with a triple by senior Tyler Carlson, followed by a steal and fastbreak bucket by senior Tanner Karel.
Karel led a balanced Eagles attack with 10 points. Oakridge had 10 different players score in the first half, and 11 total for the game. Karel said the Eagles don’t care who fills up the box score on a given night.
“It’s been like that all season,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of different people step up. Austin, Tyler, everyone really. And some of the younger guys like Garrett Wever. We’ve got a lot of different players who can score.”
“We’ve had someone different step up every game,” Ruel said. “We figure teams can’t stop all five, so someone is going to be able to step up and score.”
Fairchild and center Luke Martin each tallied eight points for the Eagles, while Hunter Delora, Ethan Jozsa and Carlson each had six.
Senior guard Logan Metcalf paced Montague with 11 points.