As if the Spring Lake varsity boys basketball team didn't have enough motivation already to defeat one of their fiercest rivals in Fremont, Lakers' coach Bill Core added a little more incentive before his team entered the court on Thursday at Spring Lake High School.
In the chance Spring Lake lost on Seniors Night in the Lakers' home finale, Core told them they wouldn't be able to don recently made conference championship T-shirts, or take part in a net-cutting ceremony.
With that to play for, Fremont didn't have a chance.
"I'm glad they got to experience that," Core said with a grin. "It was well-deserved. You couldn't have scripted a better night."
Spring Lake’s Adam Clauss hit the game's opening bucket — the first of six Lakers' 3-pointers — and never trailed the Packers, completing a dominating display of outstanding shooting and defense in their 68-41 blowout victory.
The win, which is Spring Lake's 10th in a row, makes the Lakers the first team ever to complete a perfect record in the Lakes Eight Conference at 12-0. The league was formed in 2006 and shrunk to seven members this season after Newaygo left for another league.
The Lions would have likely been just another victim on the Lakers' path this season, as Spring Lake rolled to its first conference championship since 2007.
"When we're clicking on all cylinders like we were tonight, we're tough to stop," said Lakers' senior forward Erik Johnson, who was one of four Lakers with at least nine points, as he netted 12. "It's a huge honor (to be able to cut down the nets). We take pride here in Spring Lake at being one of the best in the league and it seems like it's us, Fremont or Ludington that's always at the top. It's a great feeling knowing we're the best this year."
Core makes no secret that senior forward Austin Johnson is the Lakers' go-to player, but when the supporting cast asserts themselves like they did Thursday, Spring Lake is extremely dangerous. Johnson ignited the Lakers throughout the first half, scoring 13 of his team-high 17 points in the opening 16 minutes.
The Lakers had a 21-10 lead after one, then went on an 8-2 run to close out the half to boost their advantage to 34-17 at the break.
With his recent scoring outburst, Johnson has crept even closer to Spring Lake's all-time scoring record, which is held by Casey Hager with 1,216 points. Johnson is now 16 points away from tying the mark and 17 shy of breaking it, which he could accomplish on Monday in the Lakers' Class B district opener against Coopersville.
Core coached Hager as a freshman for two games at the junior varsity level before Hager was promoted to varsity, where he remained for the rest of his career.
"Austin has been one of the most committed basketball players in Spring Lake history and I think if we told Casey about Austin's work ethic and his drive, he would be proud to have him break his record," Core said.
Although Core said he warned his team about Fremont's capability of warming up from the outside and potentially trimming the Lakers' lead, it never materialized. The Packers were cold from the floor, hitting just one 3-pointer and could only close to within 15 in the third quarter.
The Packers tried to force the issue by pressuring Spring Lake full court, but Clauss tore it apart. The Lakers’ point guard totaled seven assists to just one turnover with Erik Johnson being his favorite target on over-the-top passes for press-busting layups.
The Lakers also received great offensive production from senior J.P. Batts with nine points, and from Clauss, who canned three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points.
"I've said it a hundred times this season; Clauss doesn't get the credit he deserves for how well he defends and how well he runs this team," Core said.
Talented 6-foot-5 senior Mike Siegel led Fremont with 17 points and junior guard Dylan Krim added 13, but they were the only Packers in double figures.
"I think those guys got worn down a little bit (in the second half)," Core said. "We switched a lot of different guys on them defensively."
Batts, a 5-10 senior guard, led the Lakers with 10 rebounds, while junior center Nick Goeglein added six boards and two blocked shots.
Core said he would warn his team of the pitfalls of becoming overconfident entering districts, with a past Lakers' squad being a prime example. Spring Lake opens districts on Monday against a one-win Coopersville squad at Orchard View High School.
"I'll talk to them, unfortunately, about the '04 team that was upset (with a 19-1 record), we'll talk about the Michigan-Penn State game, and we'll talk about nobody cares that we're 18-2 and conference champs. Everyone is now 0-0," Core said.
Erik Johnson assured that his team would be 100 percent focused at the task at hand.
"We don't overlook anyone," he said. "We already beat Coopersville this year, but we're going to prepare for them like we haven't."