When Grand Rapids Christian scored the tying goal less than three minutes into the second half of Tuesday’s Division 2 girls soccer regional contest, it would have been easy for Spring Lake to hang its head.
After all, the Lakers had protected a 1-0 lead for most of the first half and were just 40 minutes away from clinching a shot at the program’s first-ever regional title.
But instead of getting down, the Lakers and sophomore Mariada Gezon got going.
Gezon answered Grand Rapids Christian’s goal just 30 seconds later as she ran down a long pass and chipped a shot over a charging GRC goalie to give the Lakers a 2-1 lead.
That goal held up, and No. 9-ranked Spring Lake (18-2) finished off No. 5 Grand Rapids Christian, 2-1. The Lakers advance to Thursday’s regional final against No. 8 Plainwell, a 3-2 winner over No. 10 Forest Hills Northern on Tuesday.
“It’s true, we kind of fell apart a little bit, but hey, we fought all the way when we had to,” Gezon said following the game. “I saw the goalie coming out and I had to get it over her. It was pretty exciting, but it wasn’t me, it was all of us.”
With their one-goal lead re-established, the Lakers relied on their defense to win the game for them, and that came through — just barely.
Twice, the Eagles threatened to score in the final 15 minutes.
First, a free kick sailed into a crowd in front of the Lakers’ goal. Keeper Nora Reed couldn’t collect the ball, and actually hurt her knee on the play. The ball banged around before the whistle blew, signaling an offsides penalty on GRC.
A few minutes later, the Eagles threatened again, this time hitting a shot that was destined for the back of the net before Lakers’ defender Hailey Pellegrom cleared it away.
“It was really scary,” Gezon admitted. “It was giving me some butterflies to be honest.”
Leeann Latsch, who scored the Lakers’ first goal just 10 minutes into the contest, then moved back to defense to help preserve the lead, called the game’s closing few minutes “incredibly frantic.”
“The panic was there, but thankfully, Hailey Pellegrom cleared it away,” Latsch said.
Latch’s goal came on a long shot from the right side that dipped in under the crossbar, giving the Lakers an early lead to play with.
“It was nice to have that goal to calm our butterflies,” she said. “It was great to start the game out on top, because it gives us a nice tempo to play with. But that’s the thing about regionals, you can’t let down. Even when they scored, we came right back and that’s what it’s all about.”
Latsch had the assist on Gezon’s goal as she sent a long bounding ball down the field, which Gezon eventually knocked home.
The Lakers had to overcome some adversity on Tuesday. Reed left the game after hurting her knee, and Ayna Gordon, who had been playing the field all season, took over in goal.
In addition, defender Becca Boven received a yellow card in the second half, forcing her to sit out for 10 minutes.
Boven, Alex Prout and Pellegrom, along with Latsch, were rock solid in slowing down the Grand Rapids Christian attack.
“Our defense played great tonight,” Lakers’ coach Jeremy Thelen said. “They did their job, and we fought for the ball in the midfield. It was a legit all-around game from everyone. There wasn’t one person who stood out, although Leeann hustled her butt off defensively. I’m pretty proud of the whole team.”
Thelen credited Reed with making several key stops before being forced to leave the game.
“She got dinged up in there, but I give her a lot of credit for battling through,” Thelen said. “She played great. She kept us in the game.”
Thelen was especially pleased with the way his team responded to GRC’s game-tying goal early in the second half.
“I told (assistant coach) Phil (VanRees) that I’m going to make some changes, and before I even had a chance to turn around, we scored again,” Thelen said with a laugh. “I always say that on the soccer field, there are soldiers and there are artists. Mariada’s a soldier. She’s the type of player who works her butt off. She showed great hustle to track that ball back and loop it over the goalkeeper.”
The Lakers feel they have everything going their way right now, and hope to keep things rolling when they battle Plainwell on Thursday.
“It’s exhilarating, awesome,” Latsch said. “I think we’ve got the momentum to keep going. We’re looking to go all the way. It’s obvious from today that we’re capable of playing with speed and playing with heart.
“We’re ready to keep it going.”