Through one half of play, their strategy worked, as the teams played to a scoreless tie.
In the second half, the Lakers steadied their nerves, collected all the loose balls and found the winning plays they needed to score a 2-0 shutout win over the Rockets to advance to Saturday’s Division 2 district finals at Spring Lake High School.
“In the first half, they were just trying to play kickball, and we were just trying to contain it. We couldn’t really find that extra pass to get the attack going, though,” said Spring Lake junior forward Emily Batts. “We talked at halftime about communication and winning 50/50 balls.
“Kate Gilchrist was on all the midfield 50/50 balls, and she did a great job with that. Once we controlled the 50/50 plays and got the first touch going, everything else really started to come together, and that’s when we started to get our goals.”
The Laker faithful didn’t have to wait long in the second half to see fireworks, as sophomore Keara Fritsche slid a pass through a narrow opening that hit the feet of fellow sophomore Laney Peasley, who chipped the ball into the corner of the net to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead.
“I felt like doing pushups after that first goal,” said Spring Lake head coach Becky May. “I had so much energy, and I was so excited for the girls. After that, we were able to change up the gameplan and play a more possessive style than an attacking style. That was huge though, because I was not excited about the idea of having to go to a penalty kick shootout.”
The Lakers made sure there would be no overtime on Thursday, as Emily Batts buried a shot off a beautiful cross from Peasley to give the Lakers an insurmountable 2-0 lead with 15 minutes left in the game.
“That was just a perfect pass from Laney,” Batts added. “Their keeper made some great saves, but we knew if we kept hustling that we would eventually get some opportunities to score, and we made enough extra passes to score some goals and get the win.”
Batts credited the team’s play at midfield as a key reason why they were able to come out with the win.
“Our midfield is great,” she continued. “They really ran circles around them at times today. Our midfielders and our defenders are great at possession and that gives us forwards more confidence knowing that we have that kind of strength behind us.
“Gracie (VanLangevelde) and Kam (Lewkowski) are awesome in net, too, and we don’t ever have to worry about breakaways the other way, because we know they can handle it.”
May had high praise for her team’s ability to posses the ball and get an attack started the other way.
“This team is so fun to watch, especially in the middle of the field,” she said. “I’ve never seen a team possess the ball so well. Even against the teams that we have lost to, we’ve possessed the ball well. The girls just keep their composure, control the ball and we always have someone breaking into that seam. All we have to do after that is find feet and let the girl who is racing down the field make a play.”
VanLangevelde was the winning keeper in the match, outdueling Reeths-Puffer senior Elysia Mattos in the process.
“Those were two incredible keepers in play today,” May added. “I’m just glad we were able to settle it on the field and not go to penalty kicks, because I know that’s a tradition with these two teams. That’s a good team, and I’m relieved we were able to advance.
“We knew she (Mattos) was their star, and between a tough defense and an exceptional goalie, we knew it was going to be a challenge to score on them. Every goal was going to be hard, and this just shows our determination, especially by our forwards. They had to work for both of those goals. “
VanLangevelde only made two saves on the night, but her first one changed the entire complexion of Thursday’s contest.
With a charging Reeths-Puffer forward coming at her with the ball, the sophomore keeper elevated to the top of net and tipped away the scoring opportunity to keep the scoreboard empty early on in the contest.
“I was surprised I got up that high,” she admitted after the game. “The whole time I was thinking, ‘this is going to be a big one,’ and I was able to get up high enough to tip it away. Then I was immediately thinking about getting my team organized for any rebound shots.
“I couldn’t do what I do without the team in front of me. I rely on them to make most of the stops before it gets to me, but when it is my turn to make a play, I’m there and ready to make a stop.”
With the team appearing to be surging at every level, the Lakers will now prepare to host their crosstown rivals from Fruitport at noon on Saturday for the Division 2 district championship.
“Fruitport has always been our rival, so we’re excited to play them again,” Batts said. “The first time we played them, we played so weak in the first half. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead right away, but once we got our heads in the game and played our style, we really took over. That’s what we plan to do on Saturday.”