The Buccaneers’ fans blasted the Lakers with everything from the cliché —”This is our house” — to the downright dirty — “Little brother!”
The chants got more and more nasty as the game went on and it became clear that the host Buccaneers would come out victorious.
The passion the Buccaneers’ students showed toward the visiting Lakers actually speaks quite clearly to the respect the two schools have developed for one another.
Neither school looks at this basketball showdown as just another game. If that were the case, the crowd at Grand Haven Fieldhouse on Tuesday would have rivaled the crowd that came out to watch the Bucs’ home game against Traverse City Central last Saturday.
But while there were more open bleachers than full ones against TC Central, the cavernous fieldhouse was nearly packed to capacity for Tuesday’s showdown of teams that entered the contest with a combined 3-3 record.
Spring Lake always enters its showdown against Grand Haven with a chip on its shoulder. The Lakers haven’t beaten the Buccaneers since the rivalry was renewed five years ago, and many of the games, quite honestly, haven’t been competitive.
Some of that is due to Grand Haven putting a few very good teams on the court over that time, including the 2009-10 team that won the O-K Red Conference and reached the Class A quarterfinals.
Part of the Bucs’ success is also due to the fact that, let’s face it, Grand Haven is a bigger school. Coach Steve Hewitt and his staff get to choose the best 6-8 kids from a class of nearly 400 each year while at Spring Lake, coach Bill Core and his coaches have less than half that number at each grade level to choose from.
Still, Spring Lake comes into the showdown with high expectations every year — especially this year, when a team with plenty of offense, and a bit of swagger, matched into Grand Haven with visions of a Drawbridge Classic trophy dancing in their head. Afterall, the Lakers’ JV team beat the Buccaneers last winter, and many of those same players were key figures in Tuesday’s varsity matchup.
Instead, it was Grand Haven that maintained possession of the traveling trophy. The Bucs did so by playing hands-down their most passionate game of the season. Anyone who questions their grasp of the rivalry need only watch senior Alex Eidson throughout Tuesday’s showdown.
After Eidson’s 3-pointer bounced on the rim and fell through the net for an 11-0 lead, he leapt into a throng of celebrating teammates as Spring Lake called for a time out.
Later in the game, with Grand Haven trying to finish off the Lakers, Eidson drove to the basket, absorbed some contact, scored and was fouled. As a pair of teammates helped him to his feet, the look of determination and satisfaction on his face showed just how seriously Eidson takes this rivalry, and just how much he enjoys coming out on top.
Bucs’ coach Steve Hewitt was so worried about the Lakers coming in, he never allowed himself a chance to take a deep breath and enjoy the win until the game was nearly over.
“This is a good basketball team,” Hewitt said of the Lakers. “We had to play really well to win. Even when we were up 10, I never felt comfortable. I feel really good about the way we played against a very good basketball team.”
The only thing this rivalry needs now is an upset, and Core hopes his Lakers can provide one next year.
“Grand Haven deserves all the credit tonight,” Core said. “They stepped up on the biggest stage and played a great game. But this loss will not define us as a team. This will be a good learning experience. It will hurt, but maybe our juniors can bottle up this feeling and remember how it feels. With nine guys returning next year, we’ll do whatever we can in our power to not let it happen again next year.”