The Spring Lake boys lacrosse team began their playoff journey in the opening round of the Division 2 regional tournament against Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday, downing the Gladiators, 10-6, to claim a spot in the regional semifinal.
The Lakers controlled the pace of the contest from start to finish, working every phase of their game. Without much scouting information to go on, it was up to the team to perform at their highest level.
“With Traverse City, you have no intel, you have no idea what you are getting,” Spring Lake head coach Doug Sharp said. “You just hope what you have been doing all year is going to be good enough.
“I thought we played at our pace today, and we stayed true to ourselves and to our game. We have played so many games where we let our opponent pick the tempo of the game. This is one of the first times this year that I can say that we dictated the tempo for an entire game.”
From the opening whistle, the Lakers offense was working, netting two goals in the first five minutes of play.
The Gladiators would respond with a lethal transition game and capitalized on some Laker defensive miscues to draw within one at the end of the first quarter. Spring Lake senior Isiah Griswold netted his second goal of the day to help the Lakers take a 3-2 lead out of the opening period.
The one-point deficit was the closest Traverse City would get to the hosts. The Lakers held on, wire-to-wire with three goals in the second quarter.
Questionable shot selection plagued the Spring Lake attack early, with water-logged sticks and pockets making a tough target even smaller, but the peppering of the Gladiator keeper was enough to eventually pull away.
“They say that the pipe is the goalie’s best friend, and it definitely was Traverse City’s best friend, today,” Sharp said. “We have played a lot of defense this year, but this was a game where we played more offense than defense.”
A strong outing by the Spring Lake man-down defensive unit killed multiple penalties over the first half, and allowed just two more goals before intermission. Noah Verlinde even scored a long-pole goal of his own, taking the transition game into his own hands with a box-to-box charge and shoot.
Caleb Montgomery and Dominik Molotky also grabbed goals in the second quarter to take a 6-4 lead into the break.
“I told them to just keep going,” Sharp said. “We had hit a ton of pipes, just keep doing what we were doing. What we had going was working really well, and we just wanted to keep going, and do we did.”
In the third quarter, Spring Lake would take control with a revamped defensive effort. The Laker long poles held the Gladiators scoreless in the third period, while the offense worked a tired, cold and wet Traverse City defense for another three goals.
“I was amazed with how the defense did. We gave up a couple weird goals in the first half and settled down to play some good defense in the second half,” Sharp said.
The final period played out like the Lakers dreamed it up, a push in the final minutes brought the Gladiators within four, but it was too little too late.
“(Saturday) felt like a great test,” Sharp said. “We have failed many tests this year, offensively. We finally got past that and played our game.”
The victory is sweet for the Spring Lake program, but must be short lived. The regional semifinals brings an entire new level of competition.
The Lakers will square off with No. 2-ranked and defending state champion Forest Hills Central for a spot in the regional final match.
The Rangers are coming off a dismantling of Jenison in the opening round, flexing their scoring muscles to the tune of a 28-0 bloodbath.
“We have seen them before, and we know what they can do, and they are a great team,” Sharp said. “We have to play our game and not play their game. They are going to put up points, and we know that. We have been working for the last two weeks, really focusing on our offense, and who we are and what we are doing. We just have to show up and give it our best shot.”
If the Lakers survive the trip to Ada, they won’t see much better than Forest Hills the rest of the way, earning a trip to the regional final.
Spring Lake and Forest Hills Central will meet for battle on Thursday at Forest Hills Central, with opening faceoff set for 7 p.m.