The even better part was that Wayland remained undefeated this season with a stunning, thrilling, heart-stopping 77-76 double overtime victory over visiting Grand Rapids Catholic Central. In one corner was the state’s No. 3-ranked team in the latest Associated Press poll. In the other was the No. 5-ranked team, but the polls will look a little different next Tuesday morning.
The community was digging the whole scene. The stands were full when the big game started, and they were very vocal throughout the ballgame.
The Wildcats got some great performances besides the customary superstar effort from all-state point guard Presley Hudson, who ran the floor with wild abandon and dropped in 30 points. But that’s just another day at the office for her.
The supporting cast stepped up when they were needed most:
• Senior guard Caroline (C.J.) Miller played the finest game of her career thus far, scoring 17 points and carrying the team offensively at a crucial turning point. She scored seven points in the first three minutes of the third period to help turn a 38-33 deficit into a 42-38 Wayland lead. Catholic Central’s vision of starting to take control of the contest went down with her shots.
Miller also canned a free throw with 8.3 seconds left in the second extra session to force the Cougars to take a three to tie it, which missed, so the Wildcats could afford a Catholic Central player to grab a rebound to score a basket that put it still one point shy as time ran out. How satisfying is that?
• Junior forward Hope Dollarhide, who just gets better every time out, scored 10 points and battled the taller and more heralded Cougars under the boards, leading to her fouling out.
• Junior guard Ali Martus swished some crucial free throws down the stretch and finished with 10 points as well. It was Martus who was the receiver of a heads-up touchdown pass from Hudson with 1:14 left in the second overtime that really put the Cougars in a pickle.
• Junior guard Ali Cutler provided quality minutes and eight points.
• Senior forward Morgan Winger didn’t do a lot of scoring, but one of her baskets came at a crucial juncture.
The Wildcats consistently grabbed leads through pressure defense, fast-break offense off turnovers and with some deadly three-point shooting by Hudson and Miller. But the Wildcats also consistently let Catholic Central back into the ballgame with bad passes converted into easy scores and most of all, because they were shorter than the visiting group and had a really difficult time in the rebounding department.
It was interesting that 6-2 Cougar sophomore star Kyra Russell, who already is being courted by Western Michigan University, was limited to just five points and sat out most of the game. Her understudy, 6-1 senior Michaela Faber, made up for this development by canning a lot of free throws after drawing fouls from the smaller Wildcats.
Catholic Central had four players score in double figures, with sophomore guard-forward Sophia Karasinski, another WMU recruit, doing the most damage with 22 points, most of them from the free throw line. Guard Brie Spica, who drew the unenviable short straw by having to guard Hudson, nailed four three-pointers and finished with 18 points and Megan Belke also gave her team a lift off the bench with 11 points.
Besides the difference in rebounding, there was a big gap in free throws. It was a good thing Wayland connected on 17 of 21 because the Cougars made 24 of 34.
The Wildcats actually led through most of the game and even dared to take a 29-17 advantage early in the second quarter, but somehow let Catholic Central outscore them by a whopping 18-4 to take a two-point lead, 35-33, at intermission. The ‘Cats’ three-pointers quit falling into the hoop and the Cougars were dominating the boards and getting lots of inside shots at the hoop, resulting in foul shots or free throws.
Wayland was up by five, 59-54, with just two an a half minutes left, but a couple of bad passes led to Catholic Central finally being able to tie the ballgame at 61-61 with 1:31 remaining. Catholic did a delay offense to get the last shot, but committed a turnover.
The first overtime featured the Cougars getting a basket or two free throws and Wayland answering, resulting in a 69-69 count. Hudson put the pressure on by scoring a three-point play in the first 10 seconds of the second overtime. Catholic Central came back to tie on free throws, but Winger scored on a clutch putback and Karasinki made two more free throws.
It was 74-all when Hudson tossed the TD pass to Martus and the Wildcats’ defense stepped up to deny Catholic Central a decent look at the hoop, causing coach Travis Hinshaw to call time out. A Cougar attempted a three and Miller came down with the rebound and was fouled.
Wayland now is 11-0 for the season overall and 3-0 in the O-K Gold Conference. Catholic Central is 2-1 in the Gold and 10-2 overall, having lost to Ypsilanti Arbor earlier this season.
PHOTOS (Courtesy of Kenny Ritz): Caroline Miller (left photo) Hope Dollarhide