In an emotional contest, the Cougars caught a few breaks in the opening half to take a commanding lead and send the Lakers into desperation mode.
From the opening kick, Spring Lake dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for almost the entire first half.
“We had them for the first 20 minutes,” Spring Lake head coach Jeremy Thelen said. “Then, they score a good counter on us and we hang our heads, we have to be tougher than that.”
The goal came with 17 minutes left before halftime as Catholic Central drew their first corner kick of the game, looking to score via set piece. The Cougars broke up the play, sending the ball soaring toward midfield.
From there, the Lakers missed one of their first 50/50 balls of the day, as it was picked up by a talented Cougar front line, who juked two Laker defenders and beat keeper Bruce Boes to open up scoring.
“We had a set piece on our end and we didn’t wait for our help to come in,” Thelen said. “We took it quickly, so our guys were out of position, they we got countered on a big one. We made a mistake.
“They have some real talent up front, they work really hard together and are a solid unit.”
After the goal, the Laker defense picked up where they left off, controlling the middle of the field and feeding the forwards. The front line couldn’t find any meaningful chances against a tough Catholic Central backline.
As the Cougar offense warmed up, they earned a few chances of their own, eventually triggering a set piece with seven minutes remaining in the half.
A kick into the box found all sorts of contact as Spring Lake attempted to clear the threat, the Cougars landed the best contact, sending the ball high over the head of Boes to extend their lead.
“It bounced around a few times in the box, we took a couple swings at it but it didn’t go away.”
The 2-goal lead carried into halftime, putting the Lakers on short time to pull even with the defending champs.
Spring Lake was able to piece together more than a few scoring chances, including a free kick turned chaos on the Cougar doorstep.
“They cleared it on the first touch, we got it back and took six swings on it, but it just didn’t bounce our way,” Thelen said.
The time proved to short for Spring Lake, who accelerated their scoring chance as the half wore down, but couldn’t find the net.
“We were a little frenzied at the end,” Thelen said. “We had to score and were pushing pretty hard. We just have to control the ball a little better in those situations.
“At the end of the game here I look up at the stats, we had eight shots and they had three shots, and of course two of theirs went in. So, the ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight, just one of those things.
“We have to be mentally tougher in those situations. They wanted it more than us tonight. We have to find the mental toughness to come into a game and battle, battle, battle.”
The Lakers will is set to be tested once again as they host Reeths-Puffer on Monday, who defeated Spring Lake the district tournament last season.
“That is a rematch battle, they took the district from us last year,” Thelen said. "We were the holders and they won the district and are returning a stud goal keeper. We will have to come in mentally ready for that game.”
Kickoff is slated for 6:45 p.m. at Spring Lake High School.