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Second-half surge

Duncan MacLean • Jun 7, 2017 at 12:17 AM

CEDAR SPRINGS — Though the track and field state finals are behind us, there was plenty of foot racing going on this week in the regional semifinal round of the girls soccer state tournament.

The Spring Lake girls soccer team took on Cadillac at Cedar Springs High School on Tuesday, putting on a gutsy second-half performance, roaring back from trailing 2-0, to defeat the Vikings, 3-2.

Photos from Tuesday’s game

“They dug deep, made the hustle plays and did what they needed to do in order to get the win,” Spring Lake head coach Becky May said. “We’ve been down a couple times this year, but these girls never give up. It is just unbelievable that girls this age have that kind of instinct to not give up.”

A defensive deadlock took the game into halftime tied at nil. Cadillac would go up 2-0 early in the second half, before Emily Batts took over with speed and grit in the offensive third. Batts assisted Laney Peasley for their first goal, before taking the equalizer and go-ahead goals for herself.

“She is like one of those toys where you pull the string and they keep moving, except she never winds down,” May said of her star forward. “She just goes and goes, and was determined out there today.”

A full half of stalwart defense on both ends of the pitch put offensive chances at a premium. With both backlines locked in and goalies on their heads, it was a game of who would break first.

Three minutes into the second half, the Lakers broke. Cadillac standout forward Alexis Little shook off Jaedyn Shelton and buried a low-angle shot, capitalizing on a rare mistake by the Laker defense.

Eight minutes later, a thwarted Spring Lake attempt turned transition nightmare as Little finished off a textbook possession change in the Spring Lake goal.

The Lakers could not take control in the midfield game and as the defense started to tire, the wheels looked primed to disengage.

Grit, physicality and speed kept Spring Lake alive as they redoubled their efforts in the midfield. Once control was wrestled back in the middle third, Batts set to work winning races up top.

The first of three straight Laker goals came at the 23:21 mark of the second half, as Batts collected a 50/50 ball from the midfield and charged toward the net alongside her partner in scoring crime, Peasley. The two expertly executed the 2-on-1 play as Batts drew the keeper before passing off to Peasley for the finish.

“We work really well together up top,” Batts said of her forward pair. “We get those passes going back and forth and have some great give-and-goes. We really like playing up top together. It was an awesome goal.”

Back within reach with just over 20 minutes to play, the Lakers would not settle. A few quality chances passed before Batts nabbed her own with 11 minutes left to play.

The equalizer came as a high pass sailed toward Batts and her defender. An expert touch by Batts put the ball past the sweeper rolling toward Cadillac’s last line of defense.

Spring Lake’s star junior won the race to the ball once again, putting both her and the keeper’s bodies on the line with a collision and finish to even the game at two.

“As the ball came in, I was thinking I had the exact same situation in the Reeths-Puffer game and it didn’t go in,” Batts said of the try. “I knew right when I was dribbling I needed redemption.”

The dagger came with five minutes left when, once again, Batts had the ball at her feet. The product of another hard-fought midfield 50/50 ball sent her all alone down the sideline, pulling away with her defender while keeping a tight dribble. A good old-fashioned upper-90 rip caught the crossbar before ricocheting into the net for the go-ahead goal.

The gutsy performance showed just how determined this young Laker squad is and what team unity is good for.

“Everybody did their jobs in the second half,” May said. “The midfielders possessed the ball better and that gave our forwards the chance to make those runs.

“We knew they were going to try and continue to punch the ball over the top in the second half, because they had the wind. Between keeper Gracie VanLangevelde, Shelton, Gen Cossey and Lily Saunders, we were able to hold them off and punch a few in at the other end.”

“At halftime, we knew we weren’t getting any 50/50 balls,” Batts said. “We weren’t talking and we were just getting mad at each other. Halftime is usually when we get our act together. In the second half, we definitely started getting it and our intensity was so much higher than theirs.”

Batts looked like a track star out on the pitch, saying “team dinner and carbs” provided her ceaseless energy and fueled the team’s relentless physicality. The grind eventually wore the Vikings down, while bringing the Lakers closer together.

“I’m a physical person, I guess,” she said. “Our whole team is. We are all really physical when we want the ball and want the game. Our intensity and physical man-to-man has to be there for us to come together as a team.”

The win advances Spring Lake to the regional championship match against Forest Hills Northern after the Huskies’ 3-2 defeat of DeWitt in the opposite semifinal matchup. The final will take place at Cedar Springs High School on Thursday at 6 p.m.

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