Putting points on the board has been an issue for the Spring Lake varsity girls basketball tam all season.
Lakers' coach Rich Hyde realizes that to win big games, his team needs to do it on defense, and Spring Lake did just that on Wednesday, playing suffocating 'D' in the second half to pull away from host Whitehall, 48-37.
The victory propels the Lakers (6-14) into Friday's Class B district title game against Oakridge. The Eagles (21-1) knocked off Orchard View on Wednesday, 46-33.
"During halftime, (Hyde) was kind of mad about our defense," Lakers' senior guard Molly Miedema said. "We realized we had to step it up."
The Lakers held the Vikings to just 11 points after halftime, including just two in the fourth quarter.
The primary focus of Spring Lake's defense was Whitehall sophomore Emily MacArthur. The 5-foot-11 center scored nine points in the first quarter and 11 in the first half.
The Lakers used a zone defense to slow her down after halftime, and MacArthur managed just two points in the second half. They came on a pair of free throws in the closing minute.
"That's all we talked about (Tuesday) in practice is defense," Hyde said. "Obviously, Emily down low is their leading scorer, and we tried to key on her. She and (Jenna) Pesch had all of their points in the first quarter and all but two of their points in the first half.
"I laid into them a little bit at halftime. We came out refocused after halftime, mixed up some zone and man."
With the victory, Spring Lake has now won four consecutive games after starting the season at 2-14.
"We've tried to ignore our record," Hyde said.
"I think we've really been meshing," Miedema said. "We realized our season's coming to an end and we've got to put it all out there and finish strong."
The Lakers raced out to a quick lead on Wednesday thanks to a big first quarter by a pair of post players. Kelsee Zuidema and Jewel Wiersma each scored six points in the first, while Miedema drilled a 3-pointer and Breanna Williams added a bucket for a 17-14 advantage.
Foul trouble began to slow the Lakers as forward Megan VanDeWeg each picked up their second foul in the first half. Zuidema scored early in the second quarter, then the Lakers managed only a trio of free throws the remainder of the quarter.
Whitehall, on the other hand, got six points from senior forward Bailey Seeger, followed by a basket by MacArther for a 22-19 lead.
The Vikings stretched their advantage to four points, 26-22, to end the half.
The second half was all Spring Lake.
While the defense set the tone, a big offensive spurt by senior guard Brittany Beeler, who hit three shots, including a 3-pointer, to put the Lakers on top 37-32.
Whitehall kept it close with a pair of triples by Pesch, the second of which trimmed the Lakers' lead to 37-35 at the end of the third.
In the fourth, the Vikings turned the ball over on their first seven possessions. Spring Lake had plenty of chances to pull away, but the Lakers' offense was misfiring as well.
Finally, Spring Lake gained some separation when Sierra Gipson was fouled and made her first free throw with 2:45 remaining. She missed the second foul shot, but Zuidema gobbled up the rebound and scored for a 44-35 lead.
Whitehall didn't score its first fourth-quarter point until MacArthur hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds remaining.
"We only had seven turnovers in the first half and we ended with 31," said Vikings' coach Rachel Kent, who used to coach at Fruitport. "We were forcing passes, and we had too much dribbling. We have a hard time handling the pressure."
The Lakers' backcourt of Beeler and Miedema caused the Vikings' guards fits. When they weren't getting steals — the pair combined for seven take-aways — they were making it tough for the Vikings to get the ball inside to MacArthur.
Hyde noted the Lakers held a significant advantage on the boards, including 16 offensive rebounds. In addition, the Lakers turned the ball over 17 times — well under their season average.
"Basketball's all about possessions," Hyde said.