“(Coach) was saying that this winning streak is the most ever, even when the conference was a different name,” said Lakers’ senior Alec Strahl, who scored the game-winner 40 seconds into the second half. “I mean, it’s amazing to us, because we’ve never lost a conference game.”
Win No. 30 for Spring Lake was never in comfort due to an inspired effort by the Cardinals, who forced the issue throughout most of the first half with speed and scrappy play, yet had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
“(Orchard View) came out on fire,” said Spring Lake coach Jeremy Thelen, whose squad is now 17-1 this season and ranked No. 2 in Division 2. “They controlled the tempo and beat us on a lot of 50-50 balls and played very well. We need games like this because it makes us think and work the entire way. Like our game against Whitehall last week, we had to think the entire game. It will make us better in the long run.”
Orchard View, ranked No. 3 in Division 3, got the Lakers’ attention just seven minutes into the first half, when it appeared to have scored first. Cardinals’ senior forward Alex Giesel was on the receiving end of a strong pass from midfield and got tripped up just outside of the penalty box. Giesel got back to his feet, kept playing and fired the ball into the net past Spring Lake goalie Harry Kriger. But the referee had already blown his whistle, indicating a foul and negating the score.
The Cardinals’ ensuing free kick was way off the mark, sailing high over the crossbar.
“I’d say they outplayed us for the first 15 minutes,” said Strahl. “But we felt we completely dominated the second half. We definitely wanted it more.”
“We knew we had to step our game up and start winning a lot more 50-50 balls,” added junior Adam Clauss, a Lakers’ midfielder. “We started winning not just the first ball, but also the second. That was key to getting the game back in our favor.”
Spring Lake answered the call almost immediately in the second half. The combination of senior midfielder Kyle Kendall to Strahl provided the early spark.
“I just made a backdoor run and screamed my head off to Kyle to slide it forward,” Strahl said. “I just sent it far post. I was pumped because I knew we had it wrapped up after that.”
Strahl’s shot glanced off the far left post and back into the net past OV goalie Logan Holland.
“The thing that makes this team so dangerous is they’re so balanced,” Thelen said. “We have 4-5 different threats to score every game and if someone is having an off night, someone else steps up.”
With Kendall and Clauss doing their job, OV’s attack was thwarted throughout most of the second half. Thelen also highlighted the strong play and hustle of defenders Erik Lukkari, Nic Ellingboe and Ben Keller for ensuring the shutout.
“And although he wasn’t tested a lot, I thought (goalie) Harry Kriger was cool, calm and collected when he needed to be,” Thelen said.
Kriger faced eight shots on goal, compared to 11 fired by the Lakers.
OV’s furious last-gasp effort for an equalizer nearly happened with three minutes to play. The Cardinals played the ball ahead to the 18-yard line, which somehow scooted past a pair of Lakers to Giesel. The tall, skinny forward had an open look on a sharp angle, but his shot rolled just inches wide and out-of-bounds.
The Lakers will now set their sights on achieving a goal that’s alluded the program recently — winning a district title.
“We’ve never won districts but we feel we have the team this year to get it done,” Clauss said. “But we can’t look ahead past anyone at this point.”
“If we bring our ‘A’ game, we feel there isn’t anyone who can beat us,” added Strahl.