The Eagles played a pesky game, hitting buzzer-beating three-pointers as time expired in each of the first three quarters to keep a packed Spring Lake Fieldhouse on edge.
A 13-1 Spring Lake run to begin the fourth quarter quelled any doubts, ensuring a now customary Laker court-storming to cap off the district round, as Friday’s title was the fifth for Spring Lake in six years.
“It feels good. Though we have won a few, we feel fortunate and humbled to do it again,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “To be able to do it at home in front of the community and the student body makes it even more special.
“This team just grinds. The chemistry they have is phenomenal and we have some great senior leadership and those seniors were big today.”
A balanced scoring attack and lockdown defense by the Laker seniors was the difference against the Eagles. Jack VanWingen, Griffin Lorimer and Jason Keena held Jaxon Fri, who poured in 25 points in the semifinal round, to just three points on the evening. Oakridge’s leading scorer, T.J. Ruel, put up 10 points in the first half, and just three down the stretch.
Lorimer was hot on both ends of the floor, leading the Lakers with a game-high 20 points. Sam Johnson followed with 16 ahead of VanWingen with 14.
“Jack played on Jaxon Fri for most of the game and held a guy who was No. 1 on our scouting report to three points. That’s pretty good,” Core said. “Ruel is their leading scorer. He hit a couple tough shots early but only had three points in the second half with Griffin mostly on him with a little help from Keena.
“Sam had 16 smart points tonight. He got us off to a great start. He and Griffin really dominated the first half. As coaches, we are still talking about the buzzer-beaters they had and that three-point play at the end of the game to get them to 40. But, looking at the big picture, it was a pretty solid performance.”
The atmosphere postgame was euphoric as Spring Lake reflected on two stellar seasons of basketball.
“It feels really special to have been a part of these last two teams,” Johnson said. “It feels great to finish it at home in front of our crowd. They were great tonight.
“At the beginning of the season, you have goals and this was definitely one of them, but we aren’t satisfied. We want to keep going and plan on being competitive. We are really excited for the regional.”
The Eagles struck first with a 3-pointer and transition bucket to jump out to a 5-4 early lead. Spring Lake responded heartily, ripping off a 17-4 run on stellar post play by Johnson and Lorimer to take a 21-9 lead with 40 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
Oakridge would drain back-to-back three-pointers, the second at the buzzer, to close the gap back to a manageable 21-15.
The second quarter began with more of the same, as Oakridge hit another three-pointer and drew a trip to the line to bring the lead down to one. Lorimer and Johnson continued to work the post, pushing the lead back to five, 27-22, but the Eagles' momentum was building as more and more shots fell.
With 5:13 left to play in the quarter, Oakridge called a timeout down 27-22, to try and orchestrate their overtaking. Spring Lake had other plans.
Adam Boes and Johnson each drew and converted perfect trips to the line, separated by a three-pointer from Cayden Ball to give the Lakers a commanding 12-point lead heading into the final minutes of the half.
Oakridge refused to quit, scoring the last five points of the quarter, including another buzzer-beating three-pointer, to bring a 36-29 deficit into the locker room.
Spring Lake’s offense slowed in the third quarter, scoring just eight points. Fortunately, they held Oakridge to just one basket through the majority of the quarter.
On their final possession, true to form, the Eagles drilled a three-pointer to cut the Spring Lake lead back to 10 points, 44-34.
Apparently sick of the antics, the Lakers kicked off the final frame with a 13-1 run, taking a 20-point lead with four minutes left to play. That triggered the Oakridge reserves, signaling the Lakers’ victory.
The victory earns Spring Lake a date with Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-2) in the regional semifinals. Last season, the upstart Lakers upset the Cougars in the regional finals.
“This will be the sixth time we play Catholic Central in two years. That doesn’t happen often,” Core said. “It is a little different than last season. Last year, we lost to them by two and three points in the regular season and got to surprise them in the tournament. There is no surprising them this year. They have our number. They know we are coming.
“It is a team that we know. We know their offense and we know their personnel and both are very good. But, you only have to beat them once. You never know in March.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Grand Rapids West Catholic High School.