The Lakers, who had to share the Lakes Eight Conference title with rival Fruitport last year after losing to the Trojans in the league tournament finale, avoided a similar fate on Monday by beating Fruitport in a shootout, 3-2. With the win, the Lakers wrapped up sole possession of the league championship.
The photo from last year’s game showed five Fruitport players on one side of the championship plaque, their faces beaming, thumbs-up in celebration.
On the other side of the trophy is a trio of downcast Lakers’ players to whom the consolation of a shared league title was no consolation at all.
“Last year, I just remember being so disappointed, so sad, and that front-page picture in the newspaper,” said Lakers’ senior Molly Miedema. “We didn’t want that to happen again.”
“That was a scarring moment for us,” Lakers’ coach Jeremy Thelen said of last year’s game. “We talked about that picture before the game.”
The Lakers came out like a team intent on avoiding a similar fate, scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes on goals from Kelsey Kippe and Maariada Gezon.
The Trojans, however, also had some motivation on their side. After an uninspired performance in a loss to Spring Lake earlier this month, coach Jeannie McClaine vowed her team would offer up a better showing the next time out.
McClaine’s squad proved her absolutely correct as the Trojans dominated the final 20 minutes of the first half. They got on the scoreboard when Kaelyn Laufersky scored following a scrum for the ball in front of the Lakers’ net.
The Trojans continued their strong play out of halftime, and Sarah Harken’s goal nine minutes into the half tied the game at 2-2.
“I’m very proud of the way we came back,” McClaine said. “I said before, ‘You will see a different team this time around,’ and after their first two goals, I don’t think they expected us to come back.
“We played hard, it was a tied game, but at the end, they came out ahead.”
Spring Lake, which looked tentative and reactionary for the middle 30 minutes of the game, began to force the issue as the second half progressed, and the Lakers had several nice scoring chances over the game’s final 15 minutes, but could not convert.
The score remained 2-2 at the end of regulation, and stayed that way through two scoreless overtime sessions, setting up a shootout.
In the shootout, Trojan’s goalie Lindsay Armstrong came up big with an opening stop against Spring Lake’s Morgan Gagnon.
The Trojans’ Jessica Erny then scored to give her team a 1-0 advantage.
The Lakers’ Molly Miedema made her team’s second shot, and Gray came up big with a stop on Lauren Hazekamp’s shot to tie the score at 1-1.
The Lakers’ Emily Walling and Hailey Pellegrom scored to give the Lakers a 3-1 lead after the Trojans’ Bre Geile booted her shot high and wide, but Laufersky converted her kick to make it 3-2 after four rounds.
Katie Miedema had a chance to win the game for the Lakers, but her shot banged off the right post.
Fruitport’s Sydney Nelson then had a chance to extend the shootout, but Gray stood tall and knocked away Nelson’s shot to give the home team the victory.
“You’re supposed to watch their hips (to see which way the shot is going),” Gray said. “I just trusted my reflexes.”
The Lakers have now won six consecutive league championships. They shared the title with Fruitport in 2008 and 2011.
“We knew this was a big game,” said Molly Miedema, who assisted on Gezon’s goal as she won the ball from a Fruitport defender in the right corner and sent a perfect pass across the goal mouth to a charging Gezon. “We beat them the first time, and we knew they would come out hard.”
With the victory, Spring Lake improves to 14-3-1 overall.
The Trojans have a glimmer of hope in the future as they could very well meet up with the Lakers again in the second round of the Division 2 district tournament. That game would be played at Fruitport.