After bringing a tie into halftime and five-point deficit into the fourth quarter, junior center Jenna Core gave the Lakers their first lead of the second half with 1:27 left to play in the game on a highly contested shot under the basket.
On the ensuing transition, the Laker press took another victim, as Linsey Paggeot swiped a steal and streaked to the hoop for the bucket and a foul. Paggeot would hit the free throw to complete the three-point play before junior center Madeline Zenas iced the victory with an emphatic block on the next Sparta possession.
“This was a big worry for me. I knew Sparta would come in ready,” Spring Lake head coach Cavin Mohrhardt said. “To come out with a win is huge for us.”
Zenas led the Lakers in scoring with 12 points and in rebounds with a whopping 18. Core followed with 10 points and five rebounds, while Paggeot chipped in five points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Phoebe Saunders finished with five points, six rebounds and two assists.
Sparta got off to a quick start on the hot shooting of sophomore Mia Vandenberg. She would hit a three-pointer as time expired in the first quarter to cut the Laker lead down to 8-7 at the first break.
Spring Lake got out in transition to start the second quarter, netting six straight points to take a 14-7 lead. Vandenberg brought the Spartans right back, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to cut the lead back to one.
Mohrhardt signaled timeout with 4:29 left in the first half and made a crucial change.
“We knew the long ball would be an issue,” he said. “Vandenberg is a pure shooter, she can really hit it. She had 11 of their first 13 points, so we went box-and-one on her. She scored two the rest of the night, and that is all Madelyn Nelson. She was running all over trying to get open and Madelyn was on her like glue. That really disrupted their game.”
Despite the disruption, the Spartans kept charging, employing a wealth of scoring options to take the lead, 15-14, and run even with the Lakers from there. At the half, it was all knotted up, 19-19.
Sparta caught fire in the third, as the rest of the lineup picked up for their neutralized shooter. They hit three 3-pointers, outscoring the Lakers 11-6, to go up 30-25 heading into the fourth quarter.
That didn’t sit well with Spring Lake, who dialed up their defensive effort to 11, holding the Spartans to zero points in the final quarter.
It took a few minutes for the Laker offense to engage. With four minutes left to play, Saunders lowered her shoulder and took to the baseline, finishing with a flourish at the hoop to cut the lead to three, 30-27. From there, the Spring Lake press was on.
“Our press didn’t work at all in the first half, so I took it off,” Mohrhardt said. “But, our girls love to press and they knew it was time.”
The press created a turnover and bucket for the Lakers to cut the lead to one, 29-30, with just under two minutes to play.
Finally, the Spartans broke the press, driving to the hoop to draw a foul and a chance to take the lead on the 1-and-1 free throw. They would miss the front end and Paggeot would grab the rebound with 1:27 left, setting up the game’s wild finish.
“Before the game, we talked about what we had to do differently from last time we played them. Truthfully, it was the same game until the last three minutes. The big difference this time was Linsey,” Mohrhardt said. “She didn’t play a great game until the last three minutes. That is when she decided to be a force and get the steal and the shot and really ice it. She came through in those last three minutes when we needed it.”
The win leapfrogs the Lakers into third place in the O-K Blue, with a 5-3 conference record, still two games behind Comstock Park in the lead and Catholic Central in second.
“We dug ourselves maybe in too deep of a hole with three losses,” Mohrhardt said. “We are going to need some help from a lot of people even to tie for the conference. We lost to Catholic by four, Comstock Park by two and Sparta by one the first time around. We just have to take care of ourselves now. We can run the table and see where we end up.”
Spring Lake returns to the court Friday to host Allendale at 6 p.m.