MUSKEGON — On two separate occasions Wednesday night, the Spring Lake boys basketball team could only watch as Oakridge fired a shot at the rim in the closing seconds with their very season hanging in the balance.
The first shot attempt at the end of regulation sailed short, while the second attempt at the end of the first overtime session hit the back of the iron and ricocheted outward, as the Laker fanbase breathed a sigh of relief.
In the second overtime, Spring Lake got back to what they do best — defense and rebounding — and the end result was a wild 60-55 double-overtime win that sends the Lakers to Friday night's district championship against Orchard View at 7 p.m.
"I was holding my breath there at the end of regulation and overtime, said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core after the game. "We've seen enough desperation shots at the buzzer this year, and it was kind of out of our control at that point in time.
"We just told the kids during those timeouts to make sure we were boxing out on the initial shot attempt, because, so many times, it's the offensive rebound and putback that kills you. We stressed that and weathered the storm and found a way to survive."
Entering the postseason, Spring Lake was just 5-15 on the season, but the team's ability to take a punch and keep swinging had their head coach confident they could answer the bell, even if it was in the extra rounds.
"We showed just how resilient we are as a team tonight," said Core. "We've been resilient all season. We lost eight games by seven points or less this season. We got beat up a few times, but the guys always came back eager to work and get back after it at practice the next day.
"They've done it all season long, and I think that because of the way our season has gone and our schedule, we were able to pull this off tonight."
Oakridge came out on fire from deep, knocking down five 3-point attempts in the first quarter to take a 19-9 lead heading into the second quarter of play. The Lakers would hold the Eagles to just five points in the second frame, but turnovers and difficult shot attempts resulted in only seven points for Spring Lake.
Oakridge held a 24-16 lead at the break, but Core implored his team to dig a little deeper and keep fighting.
"We tried to stay positive at halftime," he said. "They knocked down five 3-pointers in that first quarter and I was just thinking that maybe it was their night. It didn't look good for us at that point, and we never really made a serious run in that second quarter, either. Our defense was playing well. We held them to just five points in that second quarter, but we were turning the ball over left and right and not even giving ourselves a chance to get into an offensive rhythm.
"We started to knock down shots, get to the free-throw line and continued to get stops on the defensive end."
The Lakers trailed 30-27 at the end of the third quarter, but a buzzer-beating layup by Grant Kieft ignited a fire in the Spring Lake squad.
A 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter by Keift would tie the game at 30, followed by a trifecta of free-throw attempts by Lucas Lyyski, would give Spring Lake a brief 33-30 lead over the Eagles, who were shellshocked by the turn of events.
Oakridge wouldn't go quietly, however, as Jaxon Fri knocked down three 3-pointers down the stretch to force overtime at 43-43.
The first overtime was a back-and-forth affair, with both squads knocking down 3-pointers and and-1 opportunities. With the game tied at 50, Fri would heave a shot at the rim as the buzzer sounded, but it would ultimately fall short.
The second overtime saw the Lakers take a quick 55-50 lead, but the Eagles knocked down a 3-pointer by T.J. Ruel to cut the lead to just two points. Spring Lake would convert 5-of-8 free throws the rest of the way, as Oakridge attempted to extend the game to no avail.
Grant Kieft scored 15 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions, to lead the Lakers, while Lucas Lyyski added 13 points and 15 rebounds. Sam Sheridan added 11 points, while Kyle Wiersma added 10 and Sam Negen finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
"Grant was so big for us tonight," said Core. "He's a shooter, and sometimes, shooters just have to keep shooting. Sometimes, shooters take shots that drive you nuts as a coach, but you always want them to play with confidence.
"In the second overtime, we wanted to start off our first possession by running a play that gets him open in the corner, and he knocked that down. He hit some big threes in the second half, as well.
"Lucas really played well in the post. He had 15 rebounds against some tough post players for Oakridge. I was just happy to see the balance we showed tonight. We had four guys in double figures and everyone played an important role in our comeback.
"Cayden Ball tweaked his hamstring again within the first minute of the game, and that forced Sam to play point guard pretty much the entire game. He played really well tonight. He took care of the ball, knocked down some pressure-packed free throws and played pretty good defense."
Spring Lake will play the Division 2 district championship against Orchard View on Friday at 7 p.m. at Orchard View High School.
The Cardinals defeated Fruitport 56-41 in the opening night of the game to advance.
Here are some highlights from Wednesday night’s game