“That’s a Spring Lake-Fruitport game for you,” Thelen said following the Lakers’ 1-0 victory. “They’ll always have that never-die attitude.”
Spring Lake defeated Fruitport in the regular season and in the championship game of the Lakes Eight Conference tournament, but as the old coaching saying goes, beating a rival three times in one season is one of the toughest challenges a team can face.
It turned out to be true for the Lakers on Thursday while playing in a steady rain storm.
Spring Lake needed a pair of clearing kicks to help prevent some potential stressful situations for goalie Nora Reed with time running down in the second period, thus making Annie Cook’s first-half goal stand as the game-winner.
Although it dominated possession and limited Fruitport to only one shot on goal, Spring Lake couldn’t extend their advantage on the scoreboard and let the Trojans hang around until the very end.
“We felt we were ready for this team. We were ready for this game,” said Fruitport coach Jeannie McClain, whose squad finishes at 15-5. “We had a couple tough games before this win, where we felt we outhustled the opposition. But tonight we just didn’t show up.
“We just couldn’t get through (offensively),” she added. “We didn’t link up like we usually do.”
The Trojans’ offensive struggles were a tribute to the team speed of Spring Lake (16-3-1 overall), which Thelen has tried to emphasize this season.
“Our success is really the same as the boys, which was a really fast team,” he said. “This is a really fast group of girls. We want to be in people’s faces. We want to cut down passes and make people react to us instead of letting them turn and create. We want to make them make decisions when they’re not comfortable making them.”
Thelen said Spring Lake’s defense on Thursday was sparked by an outstanding game by senior Kendall Meyers and junior Hailey Pellegrom, who made life difficult for the Trojans anytime they crossed midfield.
“We just tried to win every 50-50 ball and step to it before them,” Meyers said. “We wanted to shut their players down.”
“We knew we had to come out really strong and get on them right away, because they’re a good team,” added senior midfielder Chezney Peel. “We had to keep the pressure on them, otherwise they’d get pumped and get momentum.”
Fruitport not only didn’t record a shot on goal in the first half, the Trojans were only able to possess in Spring Lake’s defensive half 3-4 times in the first half.
Because they thoroughly controlled the action, Thelen felt it was only a matter of time before his squad would be rewarded with a goal.
“As much pressure we were putting on them, I felt we were the better team,” he said. “I don’t feel it was a fluke goal. Annie Cook is a hard worker and she was rewarded.”
Cook did receive a fortunate bounce, as a ball played into the Trojans’ goalie box by Lakers’ senior Kelsey Kippe skipped past about four Fruitport defenders and right to the feet of Cook to the far left of Trojans’ goalie Lindsay Armstrong.
“I had an open goal and knocked it in,” Cook said.
“Sometimes it’s just an ugly goal like that can be a difference in a game like this,” said McClain.
Fruitport tried to push forward more assertively offensively in the second half, using speedy back Debbie Pekel to try to create on the outside. Spring Lake, however, wouldn’t let it happen.
“We knew as far as stepping to the ball, one person was not enough,” said Lakers’ midfielder Katie Miedema. “It had to be individually. We needed every single player to want it enough to step to the ball every time.”
Fruitport didn’t record its first shot until 6 minutes into the second half — a high-arching free kick that was easily gobbled up by sophomore goalie Nora Reed.
Reed has replaced senior Audrey Gray, who suffered a knee injury in the Lakers’ win over the Trojans in the Lakes Eight Conference tournament finals last week.
“Having Gray out is a big loss for us, but Nora has done her job and we have total confidence in her,” Thelen said.
Spring Lake had 11 total shots, with six coming at Armstrong in goal.
Reed may be tested more in the district finals on Thursday, as Spring Lake will challenge Reeths-Puffer. The Rockets routed host Sparta in Thursday’s other semifinal, 8-1.
“We beat them 2-1 in the last regular season game before the conference tournament,” Thelen said. “They’re very organized in the back and they have a very fast forward who hurt us and scored in that last game.”
The district championship will be held at Fruitport on Saturday, beginning at 6 p.m.