The Lakers’ determination to avoid that outcome shined through during a vital stretch in the fourth quarter.
Spring Lake corralled three offensive rebounds off of free throw misses with under 90 seconds to play, including Jessica Lewakowski’s clutch rebound and putback with 1:05 remaining. The stretch of hard-fought boards in the paint helped the Lakers turn in a four-point swing, and they held on by the same margin in a 44-40 victory in a physical game that saw 39 combined fouls called between the two squads.
“We knew this was the last home game for the seniors and we wanted to finish out strong,” said one of the Lakers’ six seniors, forward Evie Lorimer. “We knew getting those offensive (rebounds) would be big. And we’re working on our free throws; we’re getting better. But rebounding always helps us out a lot.”
The Lakers’ final spurt was one of many in the see-saw showdown. Fruitport appeared to be in control at the end of the third quarter, as senior Francesca Cerniglia’s back-to-back low post buckets gave the visiting Trojans a 32-26 lead entering the fourth.
But Spring Lake was able to take advantage of its low-post combination of Lorimer and fellow senior Jessica Lewakowski and its ability to get to the free throw line often.
“We had 32 free throw attempts — 16 in the fourth quarter alone,” said Spring Lake coach Rich Hyde, whose team improves to 16-3 overall. “We were struggling some to score and we missed a lot of layup opportunities. Fortunately, we were able to get to the free throw line. We just could have used about 10 more (makes) down the stretch.”
Spring Lake scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to take a two-point lead, but the Trojans answered right back with a 3-pointer by Jessica Erny out of a timeout.
Lakers’ junior point guard Brittany Beeler swished a 3-pointer of her own to put her squad up one with at 37-36 with 2:40 on the clock. She totaled seven points.
“I’m so proud of (Brittany). She’s like my little sister,” said Lorimer. “She’s getting better and better shooting, and they’re going to need a lot of that next season.”
Fruitport re-gained its one-point lead after Amber Carmean used her quick hands to swipe a steal and draw a foul, helping her sink a pair of free throws. But it would be the Trojans’ last lead, as the Lakers wouldn’t be denied on their offensive end.
“It boiled down to those offensive rebounds. We had to do a better job,” said Fruitport coach Bob German, whose squad failed to force a second-place tie in the Lakes Eight with the Lakers. “We had great effort from our girls, but they just made the plays down the stretch. We give them 18 points in the last quarter. They had seven made three throws in the fourth alone.”
Fruitport shot the ball well early, including an early 3 by their leading scorer, Carmean. The Trojans had a 9-7 lead after one, but Spring Lake rallied late in the first half on buckets by Megan VanDeWeg and Katie Miedema to take an 18-16 lead at the half.
Fruitport found its shooting stroke again in the third, as it relied on big 3-pointers from Laufersky and Debbie Pekel to surge to the lead. Laufersky and Carmean led the Trojans with eight points apiece.
Carmean had five steals for the Trojans (11-7, 8-5 Lakes Eight), while Pekel and Rachael Folkmier grabbed five rebounds each.
Lorimer added to her long list of double-doubles this season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Lewakowski totaled nine points and eight rebounds.
“Jess has been sick all week,” Hyde said. “Whenever she was on the bench, she would put her head in her hands and had tears in her eyes. But she finished strong.
“Her and Evie were both gutting it out.”
Lorimer has battled pain in her knee all season, due to worn cartilidge behind her knee cap.
“It’s something I’ve dealt with for awhile,” she said. “(After the game) it’s just a lot of ice and ibuprofen.”
While Lorimer said Friday’s victory “meant a lot,” it won’t be the Lakers’ last crack at the Trojans. The two rivals are slated to meet in the first-round of the districts on Fruitport’s home court on Feb. 27.
“It’s always stressful (playing them),” Hyde said. “As many tapes that we’ve got of each other, there will be no surprises. There’s no secrets what we’re trying to do, as well as their style. It’s gonna be fun.”