The Vikings took an early 14-3 lead thanks to strong post play and solid perimeter defense. The Lakers would respond with a run of their own, however, and bring the score to 21-15 in favor of the Vikings at intermission.
After a back-and-forth third quarter, the Lakers would use their patented full-court pressure defense to force Whitehall into a multitude of turnovers. Spring Lake would go on to outscore the Vikings 21-9 in the final quarter of play to seal a 51-40 comeback win.
“It was very scary for a little bit there,” said Johnson after the game. “I told my teammates before the game that if we thought we could just walk on the court and beat them, then we had it coming. After the first quarter, I just looked at all of them and said, ‘we have to step it up.’
“I started getting more aggressive with my shot, and I think once I hit those two 3-pointers back-to-back in the second quarter, that got our offense going and gave us some positive momentum.”
During a critical stretch in the fourth quarter, Johnson hit another pair of 3-pointers to give the Lakers their first lead since taking a 3-0 lead seconds into the game.
“We were never really leading for most of the game, and once we took the lead midway through the fourth quarter, it really solidified it for us,” Johnson continued. “After that, we didn’t want to give up the lead, because we had worked so hard to get back into the game.
“I’m always confident to shoot, because I know Madeline (Zenas) and Jenna (Core) are down there grabbing rebounds, and they both did a really nice job in the second half.”
Johnson wrapped up her birthday celebration with 25 points, six rebounds, four assists and one steal, while sophomore center Madeline Zenas added eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
With some key players experiencing their first taste of playoff basketball, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that the Lakers started off slow on Monday.
“I think there were some jitters for us, because some of the girls on the team are new to this, and they’ve never played in the postseason until today,” Johnson said. “It’s my job to try and corral them and give them confidence.
“I think we overlooked Whitehall tonight, and that was a big mistake on our part.”
Spring Lake head coach Cavin Mohrhardt thought the slow start was more a credit to Whitehall than a deficiency by his own squad.
“I give Whitehall a whole lot of credit,” he said after the game. “They had a great gameplan, and I feel fortunate that we were able to get out of here with a win tonight. I think once the game got down to the wire, we showed our experience a little more, and they really couldn’t match that.”
The dramatic comeback wasn’t anything new for Spring Lake, as they came back from a double-digit deficit last Friday in a win over Grand Rapids West Catholic.
“We had a similar game last Friday against (Grand Rapids) West Catholic, so I give my girls a lot of credit, because they never panicked,” Mohrhardt continued. “We made some adjustments at halftime and came out in the second half and played a good game.
“When it comes down to crunch time, that’s when we took over the game. Reiko does a good job of finding the open player when she gets doubled, and she did that again, tonight.”
The Laker defense caused 21 turnovers on the night, and scored 15 points in response. Mohrhardt had high praise for two players who played a big role in that.
“Jorden Peppin had another good game for us,” he said. “Whenever she was in there, she grabbed rebounds, got some steals out of the post, and played great defense. Her and Emily Batts were difference makers for us on the defensive end in that second half.
“I think that run in the second quarter helped us get back into the game. Our press really hurt them. We didn’t make all our layups off turnovers, but we just kept at it and things turned around for us in the second half.”
At this stage, every team is trying to survive and advance. That was something Mohrhardt had to preach to his kids at halftime after it seemed like the team wasn’t grasping that concept early on.
“At halftime, I told the kids, ‘you guys don’t understand, this is it,’ he added. “Every coach for every team in every district tells their team that before the first game of playoffs, so they understand now that they have something extra to fight for.”
The Lakers will look to keep their season alive against winless Orchard View (0-20) on Wednesday in the Class B district semifinals at Montague High School. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m., while Montague (10-10) and Oakridge (19-2) will faceoff in the nightcap.