After trailing by 11 at halftime, the Lakers made it a game in the second half, rallying all the way back for a tie game heading into the final two possessions, only to fall 55-53 on a last-second bucket by Orchard View.
Sam Negen led the way with a career-high 33 points, but his fellow Lakers couldn’t keep up. Lucas Lyyski and Grant Kieft followed with five points apiece, while Kyle Wiersma added four, and Noah Verlinde and Zach Keyser each added two.
“I wish we could have brought our best tonight because this was a winnable game,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “Hats off to Nick Bronsema. We shared a nice moment after the game. I’m happy for him and his team deserves it. Hats off to him and his players.
“Sam Negen was obviously phenomenal tonight. He single-handedly gave us a shot and nearly single-handedly won us the game. We just didn’t have enough help for him tonight.”
The close loss marks the ninth time this season Spring Lake fell by seven points or less. All the while, they fought for each other, never with each other.
“I’ve said it all year, I love this team and their resilience,” Core added. “They are one of my favorite because they came ready to work every day no matter what happened before. We proved our resilience again tonight with the comeback, but it ended up being another tough loss. That has been the season. We haven’t frequently put together four good quarters, but we have proven we are capable of producing outstanding moments. They were just too few and far between to close out these games.”
The win awards Orchard View their first district title in 24 years. It was evident from the jump they were on a mission to raise the trophy.
Eight first-half 3-pointers proved the Cardinals were dialed in as they jumped out to a 15-10 lead by the first break, extending it to 35-24 by halftime. In the second quarter, Spring Lake trailed by as much as 13, as the Cardinals shot the lights out of their home gym and the Lakers struggled to support their leading scorer.
As dominant as Orchard View was in the first half, Spring Lake doubled it in the third quarter. Three straight stops on defense to start the second half turned the tides on offense for the Lakers as they mounted a 5-0 run out of the break, forcing a Cardinal timeout with 6:00 on the clock.
The Lakers continued to score out of the timeout, forcing another Orchard View stoppage with 4:16 on the clock, now leading by just four, 37-33.
Despite the respite, Negen continued to cook, finishing a brutish and-1 play in the lane to put the pressure on the Cardinals.
Wiersma followed it up with a missed 3-pointer, gathering his own rebound before barreling toward the hoop, drawing and making two free throws to close the gap to just three points.
With 1:27 left in the quarter, Negen found himself beyond the arc with a sliver of space, launching the game-tying 3-pointer to send the Spring Lake faithful into a frenzy.
Kieft would then drive the lane, draw a foul and nail both free throws to put the Lakers up by two. A last-second split-trip to the charity stripe for Orchard View closed the gap to just 43-42 heading into the final frame.
“We didn’t change our defense, or our offense, we just played better,” Core said of the third-quarter comeback. “I challenged them in the lockerroom. I asked, ‘How do you get back in a game down 11 points?’ They had all the answers. Control Ke’onte Barnes, box out, get to the free-throw line to control the clock, knock down shots. I said, ‘OK. Now, do it.’ So, they did. They just played better.”
“It wasn’t the first time we put ourselves in that position,” Negen said after the game. “I don’t know why, but we always seem to come out slow. We are a resilient group. We just came out ready to play and keep pushing.”
The final period was a back-and-forth affair with neither team separating by more than two points until late in the game.
With 2:17 left to play, Negen hit another massive 3-pointer to take a 50-48 lead. Spring Lake called a timeout. After the break, Orchard View answered with a three of their own, continuing the tug of war.
Down 51-50 as the final minute of play began, Spring Lake fouled to stop the clock. Orchard View sank both attempts to take a 53-50 lead.
The final sequence was a microcosm of the Laker season. Sam Sheridan found Negen at the free throw line with a crisp pass. He would fumble the catch, recovering possession outside of the three-point line while his defender sagged to hold down the paint. Negen launched and buried a shot, tying the game in spectacular fashion with 45 seconds left to play.
With no shot clock to worry about, Orchard View brought the ball into the frontcourt and held for the final shot. The Lakers readied themselves on defense, expecting a drive for the win.
With 11 seconds showing on the clock, the play began as the ball carrier met Wiersma at the top of the key. Wiersma made a move at the ball, briefly dislodging it. the Cardinals recovered and brought the ball to the hoop, finding a last-second pass across the lane to a waiting Edari Mitchell, who laid in his first score of the contest to take a 55-53 lead with 2.1 seconds on the clock.
Spring Lake’s 3-pointer fell short, marking the end of their season.
“A lot of games are not lost on the initial shot near the buzzer, but on the offensive rebound,” Core said. “It was similar there. We were in pretty good defensive position but when Kyle got the near steal, everyone started to head toward there and we lose our position.
“We had a lead with two minutes to play. Some of our decisions I would like to have back in those last two minutes, but I am proud of the way they fought.”
For Negen, the cardiac comeback and wild finish checked all the boxes. When asked what it takes from a team to take a game down to the wire and hit the big shots, he said it was nothing.
“It doesn’t take anything. It is the best feeling in the world,” the senior said. “That’s what you live for as a player. It comes naturally. That is what you are made for, playing in games like this. We knew we could get here. There were times in the season when people doubted us, we even doubted ourselves, but deep down we knew we belonged here. We hung with a great team tonight.
As for his career high, Negen credited his teammates.
“It was obviously my night, that is going to happen sometimes,” he said. “But, I also have had some games where I have two points. Credit to my teammates. We made the right plays. It was a tough one, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
On his leading scorer, coach Core had a simple explanation.
“Confidence,” he said. “You could just see it. When he hit a few threes, slashed to the hole and made his free throws, you saw it in his eyes that he wasn’t going to be denied. He was phenomenal tonight and single-handedly gave us a chance.”
Orchard View (15-7) advances to take on Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-2) in the regional semifinals Tuesday at Fremont High School at 6 p.m.
Spring Lake will say goodbye to five seniors and begin the process of learning from a trying season.
“When you lose that many close games, it is pretty easy to finger point, get petty, think, ‘Well, I should be playing over him.’ This team never did. There were days after tough losses I came to practice thinking, ‘What am I going to find in this gym,’ and it was just a team ready to work together. You don’t do that without good senior leadership. Those five will be successful going forward. For the underclassmen, we have to remember how this feels and learn how to close out close games.”