After 100 minutes of dominant defensive play, both teams were scoreless.
The crowds grew quiet, as they all knew months of blood, sweat and tears would be poured into an exchange of one-on-one plays between a keeper and a shooter.
These two programs met almost a year to the date in the district playoffs, with Reeths-Puffer scoring the dramatic shootout victory on Spring Lake’s home turf.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, this year’s result wouldn’t be any different.
The Rockets outscored Spring Lake 4-1 in the shootout session to advance to Saturday’s district final match against Coopersville at 1 p.m.
“We’ve been knocked out of the playoffs in a shootout the last three years,” said Spring Lake head coach Jeremy Thelen. “The last two have been to (Jake) Lofgren (Reeths-Puffer keeper). We worked our tails off tonight. I asked the guys to give me everything they’ve got and they poured it all out on the field. Our effort was fabulous out there.
“It just sucks when your season is determined by a shootout like that. PK’s are so random and fluky, and it’s frustrating when they don’t go your way. We had a couple of good shots in the first half and one or two in the overtime sessions, but we weren’t able to convert.”
The Lakers finish the season at 10-8-1 overall, with dreams of a long playoff run dashed once again by a 50-50 proposition at the end of the endurance-draining battle.
“I’m sure this group feels unfulfilled because we’ve lost in the districts two years in a row, but I couldn’t be prouder of these guys, especially the seniors,” Thelen added. “We’ve got 11 seniors this year and they’ve given a lot to our program and it just hurts to see them go out like that.
“Ben Bouwhuis, Keaton Kval and Robbie Hartliep have all been three-year varsity players for me, and they’ve been the rock of this team’s foundation. We’ve also got guys like Patrick Lee, Caden Ercole, Nick Beck, Matt Gagnon, Max White, Graydon Deal, Jacob Hewitt and Adam Boes who have all contributed for us and brought their all every game, every practice and they’ll be missed.
“They are all great kids, which is the most important part. Their character will be hard to replace next season, but that’s a part of high school athletics; you get new pieces each season and you have to figure out the puzzle as you go.”
CAPTAIN’S CURTAIN CALL
Senior team captain Robbie Hartliep would have been the team’s sixth shooter in the penalty kick rotation, and to see his season end without him attempting a kick was hard to stomach.
“It’s frustrating when you can’t control your own destiny like that,” he said. “I wish I could have gotten a chance to shoot, but I’m not mad at those guys for a second. They were out there giving it their all, and they were thinking of us when they were out there trying to score. We’re all fighting for each other.”
As frustrating as back-to-back season-ending shootout losses can be, Hartliep wasn’t going to blame the process.
“That’s soccer. The game has to end at some point, and both teams had a few opportunities before that to score,” he added. “It’s frustrating when you end up on the short end of it, and you see the other team out there celebrating and you know your season is over.”
As he soaked in his final moments in a red and gray uniform, the senior had a message for the next Spring Lake varsity club.
“Hopefully, these guys should learn from this. It’s a building block for the program and I’m sure the younger guys will have the fire to keep it going,” he said. “I’m proud of what I did here, and I’m proud of what this senior class has accomplished.
“It’s a great program, and I’ve known these guys for a really long time. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ll never forget all the memories we’ve had as a team.”