Posted On: 11/28/18 10:35 AM


If this game is any indication of how exciting high school basketball is going to be this year we should be in for a lot of fun.  The Western Michigan Christian boys basketball team opened the season with a 67-63 overtime victory over Oakridge in a non-league game on Tuesday.

Senior guard Zach Butkis shot lights out in the first half and finished with 20 points.  Oakridge big man Peyton Young (13 points, 8 rebounds) was a beast in the paint and was opening up lanes for his Eagle teammates to penetrate for easy lay ins. The Warriors led 17-16 at the end of the first quarter.  Oakridge opened up a 7 point lead in the second quarter behind the play of Jr. Guard Tanner Karel (13 points).  WMC freshmen phenom Kellen Mitchell (10 points 7 assists) playing in his first varsity game hit a game tying shot as the buzzer sounded just before the half. The score was 29-29 at the half.

Oakridge got into foul trouble in the 3rd quarter which allowed WMC to rack up points from the free throw line. Sr. Hayden Hubers (16 points) hit 7 straight free throws and his aggressive play on both ends of court really stood out and allowed WMC to take a 6 point lead.  But Oakridge would not go away.  As WMC, now playing zone, allowed Oakridge to work the perimeter and patiently wait for an open shot.  They clawed back by hitting back to back 3 pointers.  The 3rd quarter ended with 41-41 score.

The fourth quarter was more of the same with up and down basketball.  WMC head coach Kurt Gruppan wisely went back to man to man and took away the 3 pointer.  Another WMC freshmen making his debut was Owen Varnardo, this 6’4 Forward took over on the glass and defensively.  His energy was contagious and the WMC boys fed off it defensively.  Oakridge never wavered.  TJ Ruel (10 points) hit a game tying 3 with 34 seconds to go and WMC missed a last second shot sending the game to overtime with a 56-56 tie.

The Warriors outscored the Eagles 11-7 in OT.  Mitchell hit a three to put WMC ahead with 1:30 to go and then WMC finished them off by hitting their free throws.

MVP: Hayden Hubers (WMC)

Not only did Hubers provide senior leadship he got out on transition effectively and knocked down important free throws.  When he wasn’t getting looks he was hitting the open shooter and controlling the tempo.  His quick hands on the defensive end disrupted Oakridges offensive flow.

Play of the game: Kellen Mitchell (WMC)

With WMC down by one midway in the 4th Kellen Mitchell stole the ball at the top of the perimeter and hit an open Hubers for two points.  This sparked WMC on the defensive side and energized the WMC students.

Best offensive performance: Peyton Young (OAKRIDGE)

While he only scored 13 points he was effective in taking up space in the paint and kicking the ball out to open teammates.  His presence was felt with setting strong picks and clearing out space.  Clearly this top rated football player is going to make some noise on the basketball court as well this season with his quick feet and and his big body.

Best defensive performance: Owen Varnardo (WMC)

He blocked 4 shots and disrupted multiple passes in the lane.  This freshmen played way beyond his years as he communicated well and was always a step ahead on plays.  Not afraid to put his body on the line he was diving for balls and attacking the boards.

Best guy off the bench: Kellen Mitchell (WMC)

This young freshmen guard allowed the game to come to him.  He was effective on both ends of the floor.  His help defense in the lane and court vision with some key dribble penetration dishes for easy lay ins were something special. 

Best intangibles: – Oakridge offense

This team never forced shots and moved the all effecitvely.  They played well as a team and moved the ball around nicely.  Credit Coach Ruel for his ability to teach his Eagles team the power of patience.  Playing on the road is always hard and the Oakridge offense never seemed to get rattled out of their game plan.

Best under-the-radar performance: CoCo Watson (OAKRIDGE)

The junior guard Watson scored 10 points and played a solid game at the point.  He finished nicely at the rim and most of all controlled the tempo with a calming presence out at the perimeter.

Best underclassmen Kellen Mitchell and Owen Varnardo (WMC)

These two 6’4 freshmen came off the bench and provided WMC with offensive and defensive sticktoitiveness.  They showed they belong and the ceiling is high for these two young ballers.  It appears as the stage gets bigger these two manage to rise up to the challenge and play better.  As these two begin to fill out their frames and gain more confidence this combo is going to do great things for WMC in the future.

Best coaches decision: WMC Coach Gruppan switching back to man from zone

Oakridge was hitting threes and controlling tempo with their patient shot selection.   With the game on the line Coach Gruppan decided that it was time to man up and immediately forced several turnovers from Oakridge.

Best aspect of the environment: WMC AND OAKRIDGE STUDENT SECTIONS

The student sections from both schools came out for the season opening game.  It’s fun to see the student bodies get riled up and engaged in rooting for their classmates.  Both schools should be proud because the atmosphere was fun and engergetic thanks to both these student sections.