Spring Lake sophomore Ayna Gordon said she didn’t have butterflies in her stomach prior to Thursday’s Division 2 regional championship game against Plainwell at Holland High School.
“They were bigger than that,” Gordon said with a laugh. “I felt like I was about ready to pass out.”
It’s understandable why. Gordon was starting her first game in goal for the Lakers, only because she was called on to fill in for injured starter Nora Reed during the final 10 minutes of Spring Lake’s regional semifinals win on Tuesday.
It’s funny how it worked out for Gordon, however. In Thursday’s most pressure-packed moments, when most goalies would falter, she came up with her most clutch saves.
Gordon punched away a streaking shot off a Plainwell free kick with 1:40 remaining in the game’s second overtime to preserve the 0-0 tie, then gobbled up the fourth shootout attempt from Plainwell, eventually helping Spring Lake win by a 5-4 margin and secure the program’s first-ever regional title.
“It was unreal,” Gordon said of the game-winning save. “I didn’t even realize I caught it at first, and then I looked down and…It hit me, and I was like, ‘Yes!’”
In a game where shots were at a premium — Spring Lake had just one shot on goal through regulation and two overtime periods — the Lakers almost seemed to relish having wide-open looks during a shootout after trying to unsuccessfully crack a stellar Plainwell defense throughout the game.
“It was tough (not being able to produce), but we kept on fighting,” said Spring Lake junior Kelly Hoffius. “Once we got to the shootout, we were trying to aim for the corners.”
Both teams opened 3-for-3 in shootout attempts, with successful scores by the Lakers’ Alex Prout, Molly Miedema and Leeann Latsch. Miedema scored despite not playing most of the second half and both overtimes with a knee injury and Latsch was limping badly at times in the extra sessions after banging up her lower leg.
Plainwell finally misfired on its fourth try, as sophomore Machenzie Pulver’s shot went right at Gordon for a relatively easy save.
Spring Lake followed with a goal by Hailey Pellegrom on its fourth attempt, and Hoffius made it a perfect 5-for-5 on the final kick.
“It was just crazy,” Hoffius said, after she saw her shot sail into the net. “It felt amazing.”
Both team’s defenses were tremendous, as Spring Lake kept things relatively low-pressure for Gordon, allowing just three shots on goal from the Trojans.
“We saw them play (on Tuesday) and it was a 3-2 game, so I thought it would be open, with some scoring, but it turned into a real midfield battle,” said Spring Lake coach Jeremy Thelen, whose team is now 19-2 overall. “There wasn’t a huge number (of shots), and I thought there would be coming in. But soccer’s a weird game like that.
“We don’t one single person taking all of our shots, so it doesn’t frustrate this group,” he added. “And for me, I don’t care about shots. I’ll take the win. I’m not frustrated by that at all.”
Arguably Spring Lake’s closest call in the second half came off a Plainwell corner kick, as Gordon elevated to get her hands on the ball, then had it briefly slip out of her grasp and fall behind her. She secured it again before it could roll past the goal line, however.
Her most impressive save came in the second overtime, as the Trojans’ Hope Pell’s free kick sailed high, forcing Gordon to react in the air.
“I saw the ball and at first, I thought it was too high, then I realized, ‘No, I have to play this ball,’ and I was able to punch it away. Luckily, I was able to hit it. Thank God I got it.”
Spring Lake’s first shot at Plainwell goalie Lauren Stefl came with 7:08 left in the second overtime, but the Trojans’ netminder easily caught it for the save.
Spring Lake now sets its sights on the state semifinals, where it will face either Gull Lake or Richmond on Tuesday at Plainwell.
“We’ll enjoy this tonight, but the girls have exams tomorrow. It’s our last day of school,” Thelen said. “For our six seniors, this is tremendous. It’s a really important win for our program. We’ve been building and building, and to take the next step is huge.”
Spring Lake’s last two wins have been awfully impressive. The Lakers defeated No. 5-ranked Grand Rapids Christian on Tuesday, and a Plainwell squad that had reached the last two Division 2 state championship games. The Trojans won the state title in 2011 and were runners-up last year.
Now, the Lakers will try to reach that elite level.
“We’ve got some big games coming up,” Gordon said. “We’ll be ready.”