Wednesday night wasn’t much better weather-wise at Cedar Springs, with the Lakers and host Red Hawks playing through chilly 35-degree temperatures, and more wind gusts and stinging rain.
But unlike a year ago, the end result for the Lakers made it all worth while.
Taking full advantage of a stiff wind at their backs early on, the Lakers notched four first-half goals — coming in a stretch of 14 minutes — and then locked down defensively in the second 40 minutes of play to secure the 4-0 shutout victory over Cedar Springs.
The win sends the No. 2-ranked Lakers (18-1 overall) to Saturday’s district championship game on the same field against Reeths-Puffer. The Rockets also turned in a shutout victory on Wednesday, blanking Sparta, 5-0.
Spring Lake coach Jeremy Thelen said taking advantage of the wind early on was critical.
“It was windy and rainy but at this point of the season, you’re going to have to play through this type of weather,” Thelen said. “We may even see some snow soon. But we were able to score a goal just a couple minutes in and we set the tone early.”
Spring Lake senior Michael Zietlow knocked in a ball off a Lakers’ corner kick with 38:14 showing on the clock for the opening score. The Lakers’ forward didn’t waste much time making another key play, as he provided an assist on Spring Lake’s second goal just five minutes later.
“Michael Zietlow sent a great cross over to me and I played it down off my chest and volleyed it in,” said Spring Lake’s Riley Kammeraad.
The Lakers’ senior said he was still “pretty cold” in the postgame locker room inside Cedar Springs High School, but the conditions at Northview were worse.
“In games like these, you just really have to push through it and help out your teammates,” Kammeraad said. “That’s the key thing; if you don’t work good together, you’re not going to win.”
Spring Lake’s combination of speed among its forwards and midfield and ability to win nearly every 50-50 ball overwhelmed the Red Hawks, helping the Lakers keep their foot on the gas with a 2-0 lead.
With 24:58 remaining in the half, Alec Strahl received a nice drop-off pass from a teammate and then blasted a shot to the to the far right post past Red Hawks’ goalie Kyle Coutchie for a 3-0 advantage.
Just 20 seconds later, junior midfielder Adam Clauss got into the action, scoring his second goal of the postseason to make it 4-0.
It could have easily been 5-0 with 20:30 on the clock, but another Spring Lake goal was negated due to an offsides call.
Thelen said he loved seeing the balance in scoring, which has been a strong suit of his squad all season.
“Anybody can score. Teams can key on one player,” Thelen said. “Even tonight, (midfielder) Kyle Kendall was sick and went home early (from the game), but we had Tanner Berg step in and have a great game. That’s the way this team is built.”
Spring Lake had an 11-1 shots on goal advantage in the first half, and despite having facing the wind in the second half, still outshot the hosts 6-2.
Spring Lake goalie Harry Kriger preserved the shutout with a nice diving save on a Cedar Springs free kick from 30 yards away late in the half.
Kammeraad said the Lakers didn’t play their best in their previous meeting against the Rockets this season, a 3-1 win on Aug. 29. But with a district championship on the line, the stakes are obviously a lot higher.
“It’s exciting knowing we’re playing for a district title,” he said. “We know we have to play a lot better.”