So it was Friday evening when the Wayland boys’ varsity squad lost a 55-54 heartbreaker to visiting Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, thereby crushing any Wildcat dreams of an O-K Gold Conference title. The ‘Cat have lost twice now to Ottawa Hills, the first time in double overtime and once to Middleville Thornapple Kellogg. A 7-3 record in the Gold probably will not get it done because Ottawa is undefeated thus far in league play.
The difference in the contest was free throws, but not down the stretch. Wayland made only two of its first 10 attempts at the charity stripe and was 4-for-12 by intermission. Meanwhile, the Bengals didn’t even shoot a free throw in the entire first half, but was down by only two, 26-24.
Ottawa Hills has the same kind of talent as the Wildcats, a solid bunch that can get up and down the floor in a hurry. And it has in James Beck II a 6-7 center, just two inches shorter than Lacey James. And it has a pretty good three-point shooter in guard-forward Anthony McIntosh to offset Wayland senior point guard Dilon Aten.
The two teams clawed at each other up and down the court, making terrific plays on both ends. With James and sophomore Mitch Dykstra leading the offensive charge with eight points apiece, the ‘Cats took slim leads and went to the lockerroom up by two.
But Wayland managed only four points in the first four and a half minutes of the third period and were overtaken 35-30 when coach Mike Hudson called time out to try to regroup. Things briefly got even worse, as the Bengals mounted a 10-point lead, 44-34, with just 1:04 left until the start of the fourth quarter. They had a stretch in which they were beating Wayland at its own game, getting steals and turning them into easy fast-break baskets.
The visitors astonishingly were able to do this while Beck was sitting on the bench with foul trouble. James was able to go right at him offensively and draw fouls and Beck eventually went to the sidelines with the magic number five with 2:41 left in the ballgame.
Wayland came up with a couple of big offensive plays from James and Dykstra in the last minuted of that nightmarish third period and drew to within six, 44-38. Then the ‘Cats got a flurry of scoring from James on a slam dunk, a three by Dykstra and a short pull-up jumper by Aten that finally tied the count at 47-all with 5:34 showing on the clock. Aten shortly afterward sank a free throw to put his teammates up by one, but it was the last time the home team would enjoy a lead.
Wayland had switched to a zone to try to keep the Bengals from penetrating and it worked reasonably well until Lance Windom, who tied sophomore Avery Hudson as the shortest player on the court, tossed a crucial three-pointer from deep in the left corner. Not long afterward, Tomari Jemison, who came off the bench to spark Ottawa with the loss of Beck, scored inside and made it a three-point play after being fouled.
The Bengals were on top 55-51, but were guilty of a couple of turnovers in the last minute. Avery Hudson made them pay with just over 50 seconds left by drilling a three to cut the deficit to one. Wayland had two more chances to tie or go ahead in the last 21.3 seconds, but missed a layup and after the fouled Windom missed the front end of a one-and-one, came down one last time to miss a three and a putback and then James tipped the ball into the hoop, but the final buzzer had already sounded.
James finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Wildcats’ attack and Dykstra had his biggest offensive night this season with 13. Aten finished with nine points and during the second quarter broke Alex Lyle’s school career scoring record of 1,112 points.
Sophomore forward Zac Nieuwkoop added eight points.
For Ottawa, McIntosh led the way with 17 points, Windom added 13, and Beck, despite foul trouble, had 10.
Though the Wildcats don’t realistically have a chance to win the league crown, they’ll play at home the next three games, Tuesday against Hamilton, Friday vs. Thornapple Kellogg and the following Tuesday vs. Mattawan. “The ‘Cats believe they have a score to settle with TK after suffering their first loss of the season at the Trojans’ lair, 63-60, last month.
PHOTO: Senior point guard Dilon Aten broke the school career scoring record in the second quarter. (Photo courtesy Kenny Ritz)