By Nate Thompson
EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – You couldn’t tell by the calm, cool and collected look on the faces of the Ravenna basketball players.
But the roar from their big crowd of fans who followed them on the road told the story: Ravenna had just clinched a little bit of history.
The Bulldogs continued their amazing season on Tuesday with a more-than-convincing 70-36 victory over rival Oakridge in a West Michigan Conference showdown at Oakridge High School.
The win gave Ravenna a perfect 16-0 overall record and a 12-0 mark in the conference. The team clinched a share of the conference title for the first time since 1980, and a win on Friday at Mason County Central would give them the outright championship.
“They said it’s been 40 years or some odd years since we won conference,” said Ravenna coach Courtney Kemp. “That’s a lot of pent up energy coming from Ravenna. Our crowd was fantastic, and there was a lot of energy from our kids tonight.
“You don’t expect to come in here and beat a quality program like Oakridge by 34 points. It was our night.”
Senior point guard Trevor Sterken fully appreciated the significance of the win.
“”It’s crazy,” said Sterken, who totaled 16 points and five rebounds. “The memories of this basketball team, for myself and my friends, there are going to be a lot of happy memories.”
Both squads started slow offensively, but it was Ravenna’s defense that set the tone. With tall players like Jacob May, Hunter Funk and Calvin Schullo clogging the paint and taking away the Eagles’ dribble penetration, Oakridge had to try to score from the outside.
The Eagles misfired time and time again.
“Guys like (point guard) Coco (Watson), that’s not his game,” admitted Oakridge coach Tracy Ruel, whose squad fell to 11-5 overall and 9-3 in league games. “Ravenna’s length gave us fits. We didn’t do a good job of getting to the rim and when we did, they contested our shots.”
Oakridge fell behind 9-0 and didn’t hit their first shot until the 5:30 mark of the first quarter. Guard Austin Fairchild’s three-pointer was the Eagles’ only field goal in the opening quarter, and Oakridge trailed 15-3 after at the first buzzer.
Kemp said his team had a “case of the yips” early, and missed several point-blank shots, but Sterken’s steady play on both ends of the court kept the Bulldogs comfortably ahead. His layup right before the halftime buzzer gave Ravenna a 27-13 lead at the break.
Oakridge center Luke Martin scored six straight points early in the third quarter to help his team claw back to 29-19, but Ravenna soon found its offensive footing.
Kemp said that offensive balance is one of his team’s strengths, and that was showcased in the third quarter.
First senior Calvin Schullo caught fire, scoring 12 of his game-high 17 points. Showing off a strong ability to drive as well as shoot from the outside, Schullo’s second triple from the corner gave Ravenna a 41-21 lead midway through the third. Funk followed suit a few seconds later, drilling a straightway triple.
Junior Dominic Jones drilled another corner three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer, giving the Bulldogs a 49-29 advantage.
Ravenna finished with nine three-pointers, including back-to-back triples by Sterken to start the fourth, which officially opened the flood gates on the blowout.
Funk finished with 10 points for Ravenna, while fellow starters Jacob May and Conner Kilbourne each scored six. Reserve forward Chad Erickson scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter.
Martin led the Eagles with 10 points while Fairchild added eight.
Despite the huge win, Kemp said he almost had to coax his team to celebrate their big moment.
“Tonight I came walking back, and I’m expecting that locker room to be upside down, but they’re all quiet, just waiting to see what we’re doing for the game on Friday,” Kemp said. “Finally, I told them, ‘Guys, we just guaranteed ourselves a share of a conference championship. Enjoy it.’
“After that, they let loose.”