The match lived up to its billing, with both squads generating scoring chances and key saves along with some heavy collisions and heated trash talk.
In the end, the Lakers would reign supreme in a 3-0 shutout win over the Trojans at Fruitport High School.
See more images from Saturday’s district championship game
The Lakers scored two quick goals in the first half to enforce their style of play. Three minutes into the game, junior Taylor Colquitt sent a cross pass into the heart of the Fruitport defensive front and teammate Laney Peasley was there to corral the pass and sink the shot to give Spring Lake an early 1-0 lead.
Eight minutes later, Peasley would press the issue on the attack, intercepting an intended pass from a Fruitport defender to keeper Madalyn Fett and chipping the ball past the keeper for her second goal of the afternoon.
Fruitport would collect themselves after that and play the Lakers step-for-step for most of the remaining match.
The Trojans would have a pair of scoring chances in the second half, with Jaydie Hanks missing on a penalty kick early that sailed just over the top of the crossbar. Shortly after that, Spring Lake keeper Kamryn Lewkowski made an acrobatic save on a Fruitport attempt that sent the shot ricocheting out of bounds.
Spring Lake continued to press late in the game and finally broke through, when junior Madeline Zenas worked through traffic to send a rocket of a shot into the corner netting to give the Lakers an insurmountable 3-0 lead with 12 minutes left in the game.
"Apparently, we really needed those two goals early on, because Fruitport really came back with some fight and had us on our heels for the middle 50 percent of the game," said Spring Lake head coach Becky May. "We had a couple of devastating injuries early on in the game that really affected us physically and emotionally.
"You go in with a gameplan and then two girls that get most of your minutes go down with injuries and you're forced to adjust on the fly."
The Lakers saw junior Keara Fritsche and senior Emily Batts both leave the contest early on with lower body injuries and not return the rest of the match. The news after the game put a damper on the celebration.
"Keara is done for the year," stated May. "She probably broke her ankle, and it's pretty bad. It's already swelling up. We're not sure about Emily's status yet, but we're hoping for the best. We really had to battle through the emotional swings of those injuries, plus the different playing surface, and we were playing a rival at their place for a district championship.
"We really needed that second-half goal. We didn't want to limp into the regional round with no momentum, so Madeline's goal was a big boost for us."
Spring Lake will play Byron Center (15-4-1) in the Division 2 regional semifinals on Tuesday at Holland Christian High School with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
"If we can play our style consistently from start to finish, I haven't seen a team that can play like that all season," added May. "The girls are always calm and under control. They are kids though, so sometimes they get rattled when a teammate goes down or something doesn't go their way. That's my job to calm them down and take a deep breath.
"The decisions we make when we are under control and picking our heads up make us a tough team to beat. It's the decisions we make when we are panicking and keeping our heads down that makes us like any other team."
Those decisions are made easy when the team plays within itself and uses its defined individual roles to spark collective success.
"We have a very simple formula for success," continued May. "When the ball comes out, we go after the ball at midfield. Usually, it's Kate Gilchrist flying out there and getting the ball. After that, everyone's job on the team is to get the ball to Phoebe (Saunders). She's the facilitator and she makes the final decision on the attack as to who gets the ball.
"The name of our game can basically be called ‘Find Phoebe' because that's when we are at our best. Sometimes, we bypass her and we usually end up paying for it. We always tell the girls to just do your job to the best of your abilities and we will have success. We have roles on the team and it's worked out well for us."
"We always want to exceed expectations. Who knows what will happen in the regionals, but as long as we go down fighting, I'll be happy with what we've done this season. We just want to take it one game at a time and see what happens. When these girls are on, though, there's no telling how far this team can go."
FRUITPORT BATTLE CRY
For host Fruitport, the first 12 minutes of the game defined the outcome, but the team's willpower after those two goals will send the team into the offseason with plenty to be proud of.
"Those two soft goals at the beginning of the game made the difference," said Fruitport head coach Jeannie McClain. "We played hard and physical, but it wasn't enough against a really talented team. If those first 12 minutes went differently, it would have been a very interesting finish.
"These girls play hard for each other, which makes it so difficult when the season is over. I'm so proud of our girls. Three of our seniors have been four-year varsity players for us in Jaydie Hanks, Lauren Peterson and Paige Stanley. Then we brought up Izzy (Isabelle Raven) as a sophomore, too, so you just get attached to these girls. It'll be difficult to restart next year, but that's part of the process every spring.
"I don't think people expected much from us this year, but we really put together a strong season. The fight and tenacity that these girls showed today is something they should be proud of. I think everyone coming back next year will be motivated by this game and I think we absolutely finished the season with one of our best efforts."