When Grand Rapids South Christian senior John Wassink scored six straight unanswered points in the first four minutes of the third quarter to pull his team to within two, 32-30, fears were brewing for an upset at the Wayland High School gym Friday evening.
But it was not to be.
After the homestanding Wildcats frittered away a lead of as many as 15 points in the second period, they regrouped at the 4:11 mark on a layup by 6-9 pivot Lacey James and blew past South like the Road Runner took off on Wile E. Coyote. And they had the relentless pressure defense and rebounding to thank for the fun.
Junior guard-forward Michael Kelly, finally back in action after a lengthy illness, dropped in a pair of free throws, Jake Holtz scored on a baseline layup, point guard Dilon Aten hit James with a pass for an easy lay-in, Zac Nieuwkoop scored inside and fellow sophomore Avery Hudson nailed a three-pointer.
Meanwhile, South Christian scored not a point for the remainder of the third period until the buzzer. Suddenly, a tight two-point ballgame had become a mild rout. 47-32.
The fourth quarter’s early stages showed more of the same, so there was a stretch in which Wayland outscored the visitors by a whopping 32 to 5. Game over.
The Wildcats showed flashes of brilliance in the early going as well, using that classic combination of terrific pressure defense leading to easy fast-break baskets, a strong inside game with James and Nieuwkoop and the some deadly outside shooting from Aten and Hudson.
But the Sailors somehow were able gradually to whittle away at the 15-point gap and they crept to within eight, 32-24 at the half. They had their hopes up midway into the third stanza after Wassink’s scoring burst, but then Wayland simply came to its senses and went back to what it does so well the rest of the way.
South Christian scored just eight points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth.
James was his customary dominating self, scoring 21 points and gathering 15 rebounds. Aten collected 14 points, Hudson had 13 and Nieuwkoop 10 with 10 rebounds. Aten and Mitchell Dykstra both had five steals and Aten seven assists.
Wassink finished with 13 for the Sailors, who fell to 10-8 overall, but was the only O-K Gold team this season to beat Ottawa Hills.
The outcome enabled Wayland to win sole possession of second place in the final O-K Gold standings with a 7-3 record. The Wildcats now are 16-3 overall and will play a non-league contest at Forest Hills Eastern next Thursday night before they start district play at South Christian the following Monday.
PHOTO: Dilon Aten (3) tries to drive past South Christian’s Evan Beukema in the game between the two teams on Jan. 31. (Photo courtesy Kenny Ritz)