The Spring Lake girls basketball team put together a stellar showing against Oakridge (19-3) in the district semifinals Wednesday night. Narrow leads through the first quarter at into halftime gave way to a 59-54 Oakridge victory, as Sophia Ward poured in 27 points to lead the Eagles.
“I can’t take anything away from our girls tonight,” said Spring Lake head coach Cavin Mohrhardt. “They played to the very end. I can’t complain about one thing they did all night long. They just played a little better game. We got tired because our girls played the game of their life.
“When the game was on the line, we gave the ball up a couple of times when we shouldn’t have. Sophia is a great player. Laney Peasley and Jennifer Judge did a nice job on her with intense pressure. She is just a good player and that is a good team. I don't think we were such a dark horse. If we played 10 times, I bet we get five. I'm proud of my girls tonight."
Abbi Perkins led the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds, and one assist, while Jenna Core added 12 points, six rebounds and two steals. Madeline Zenas scored 11 points and eight rebounds, Phoebe Saunders paired 10 points with 10 assists, and Jennifer Judge scored seven points.
Spring Lake hit the court fast and loud, as they gassed Oakridge in transition and bashed them in the paint in the first half. They led 19-15 through the first quarter and 30-28 at halftime.
The Eagles kept up in the first half with lethal shooting from distance, hitting four 3-pointers.
Despite immense defensive pressure by Laney Peasley and Judge, Ward scored half of her team’s points through the first 16 minutes. She wasn’t scoring alone, though, as Brianna Pastor nailed two of the team’s shots from deep, spreading the Laker defense thin.
Spring Lake’s first-half speed slowed in the second as Ward continued to score through whatever defense, or contact, they could throw at her and Pastor stayed hot from beyond the arc. She would hit another pair of 3-pointers in the second half to make it four for the game on her way to 16 points.
The pair would hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the second half before taking control of the transition game to zoom out to a 40-34 lead just three minutes into the third quarter.
Spring Lake worked their way back with their post game and a bevy of free throws by Zenas, Perkins and Saunders. With 30 seconds left in the quarter, the Lakers had worked the lead back down to 40-42, before Ward took the final possession coast-to-coast to put the lead back to four.
Two quick buckets by Perkins and Zenas on the inside kicked off the fourth quarter before Core nailed a 3-pointer to take the lead, 47-46, with five minutes to play.
Oakridge grabbed the next five points to retake their lead, 51-47, with 3:20 to play.
Saunders and the Lakers refused to quit, as the junior point guard drove hard into the lane to draw a foul and sink two free throws.
By now, a near full game of maximum effort was taking its toll on Spring Lake, as they began to struggle pulling down rebounds and converting in the paint.
The three-point Oakridge lead would hold into crunch time, with Spring Lake taking a timeout with 1:50 left to play.
The planned play broke down following the stop with Ward nabbing a steal and heading for the basket. A foul sent her to the line, where she sunk both shots to push the lead to five.
Core responded heartily, nailing a 3-pointer to stave off the end of her career at Spring Lake.
On a crucial defensive possession with less than one minute to play, the Lakers forced the ball out of Ward’s hands. Taryn Thompson would end up with the rock, sinking a jumper from the elbow for her third basket of the night to put Spring Lake in desperation mode.
Forced to foul but well short of the bonus, the Lakers had to hack four times to get the Eagles to the line. Once there, they would go six-for-six for the quarter with Kyle Stewart hitting four, to seal away their victory.
“I think we forced things a little bit in the end,” Mohrhardt said. “We knew we couldn’t be down three or four points in the final minutes because they would get the ball to Ward to seal it. We got it out of her hands, but then her teammates hit free throws and a few shots.
“Running has gotten us through a lot of good games. But, when you have to totally depend on it, that’s not a good thing. Tonight, we didn’t stop running, we just slowed down. I think that 20 minutes of running up and down made that last two minutes tough.”
The loss finishes the Lakers’ season at 11-10 overall, but this team meant much more than that in Mohrhardt’s last season as their head coach.
“I am so proud of my girls,” he said. “We are way better than our record this year. But, when the buzzer sounds and you aren’t ahead, that is tough to say.
“I can say, this has been my favorite team. They are good girls. They work hard, there is no drama. In my 35 years, I haven’t had a team this close that has made my job so easy and fun. The never complained, they never backed down, they never turned their backs on each other or me or anything else. That says it all about this team.”
Oakridge advances to play Fruitport in Friday’s district final at Whitehall at 7 p.m.