For the second season in a row, the Lakers saw their season ended abruptly by Forest Hills Northern in the Division 2 regional finals. Last spring, a goal with 30 seconds left in regulation helped the Huskies escape with a 1-0 victory.
This one might hurt a little more, as Spring Lake battled back from a two-goal deficit late in the second half of regulation to force overtime, only to fall short 3-2 in a penalty-kick shootout.
The Huskies advance to play Richland Gull Lake (20-0-1) in the Division 2 semifinals on June 13 at Portage Northern High School. For the Lakers (18-3), the heartbreak of coming so close to a state semifinal berth was magnified by the second-half comeback.
"If there's any way for it to be worse than last year, this was it," said Spring Lake head coach Becky May after the game. "It's disappointing and really heartbreaking to get this close. We missed three PKs, and we never do that. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was just fate, but it's a tough way to end the season.
"There was nothing to fight back from last year. We played to a scoreless tie for 79-plus minutes, and they scored the game-winner with 30 seconds left. This time, it was a battle. We stood up to the challenge, fought back and tied the game up. You want to see that kind of fight rewarded, but it wasn't meant to be I guess."
Forest Hills Northern was the aggressor early on, as the Huskies seemingly won every 50-50 opportunity and the majority of those possessions into scoring opportunities. The Laker defense held for the first 15 minutes of play, but Forest Hills Northern's Elyse DeSchryver eventually cashed in at the 24:50 mark of the first half to give the Huskies an early 1-0 advantage.
Both teams would generate scoring chances late in the half, but both keepers would make key saves to bring the halftime score to 1-0.
The second half started in a similar fashion, with the Huskies putting the pressure on the Laker defense. Four minutes into the half, Forest Hills Northern's Carlye Fatum chipped in a rebound shot through the outstretched arms of Spring Lake keeper Kamryn Lewkowski to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead with 36 minutes left in the match and put the Lakers in a tight spot.
Instead of viewing the two-goal deficit as an insurmountable obstacle, however, the Lakers rallied together and went on the offensive. Around the 25-minute mark, Spring Lake appeared to flip on the proverbial switch, and the patented Laker attack started to show some life.
After a few possessions in the Forest Hills Northern zone, Spring Lake finally broke through with a Taylor Colquitt goal off an assist from Laney Peasley with 22:45 left in the game. The Lakers celebrated with an air of relief, as they finally started to believe a comeback was in the cards.
Forest Hills Northern had other ideas, however, as the Huskie countered with a jump shot over the top of the Spring Lake defense for a goal by Grace Sayers just two minutes later to extend the Forest Hills Northern lead to 3-1 with 20 minutes left in regulation.
To many, that goal felt like the closing salvo in a heated exchange of momentum swings.
Not with this year's Spring Lake soccer squad.
The Lakers continued to press the issue, and Taylor Colquitt added her second goal of the match with 14 minutes left in the match to cut the lead to 3-2. Less than a minute later, senior Emily Batts completed the comeback when she ripped a shot past the keeper to tie the game at 3-3 with 13 minutes left in the game.
The Huskies would see a shot attempt deflect off the crossbar in the final minutes of regulation, but the score would hold at 3-3 after 80 minutes of play.
"We've been a second-half team all season, and we proved that again today," added May. "We always make adjustments at halftime and the girls have been very good at taking those changes and applying them in real time. We finally found a rhythm midway through that second half and started putting the pressure on them.
"We just lost too many 50-50 balls. We talked at halftime about getting in front of the ball instead of behind the defender. In the first half, we didn't do that and they sent some big through shots back to our end and all of sudden, there's a quick change, and we are on our heels playing defense instead of attacking with possession."
The Lakers would see a few more opportunities go wide in the first 10-minute overtime session, while the Huskies would be the aggressors in the second session. Neither squad would score a game-winner in the 20-minute stretch, however, as the pulse-pounding match would ratchet up the intensity with a penalty-kick shootout to determine the winner.
The Lakers and Huskies would both net their first two attempts, but the third round saw the Forest Hills Northern lineup create some separation, as they scored on their third attempt and the Lakers' third-round shot sailed high.
Both squads would miss their two final attempts, ending the game and Spring Lake's season.
"Emily (Batts) gets taken out by the keeper in that first overtime session and there's no call," May said of controversial no-call in the first overtime session. " I don't know why they give these keepers so much freedom to just take people out like that, but that would have been a game-changing play for us.
"That's soccer though. You live and die on a few plays."
As for the penalty-kick shootout, May believes the fluke nature of the session doesn't always reward the better team.
"Maybe they have more experience playing tight games and penalty-kick shootouts, but I certainly don't think they were the better team tonight," May admitted. "I thought we played better soccer, but they were more aggressive, they won the 50-50 balls and we couldn't finish on our PKs.
"Now the next game is a year away, and that stinks.
"We talked before the shootout about it's basically just a pass from the corner. It's something they do every day at practice. My guess is that it was just nerves. I bet if we lined them all up again right now with no stakes attached to it, they'd probably make them all."
For Spring Lake seniors Emily Batts, Madelyn Wright, Tia Leary, Lilly Saunders and Coco McKeough, Friday will be their final match in a Spring Lake uniform. What they created as far as a program culture, however, won't soon be forgotten.
"I love this team, and I'm excited for the girls we have coming back," said May. "At the same time, my heart breaks for these seniors, because they've been such great leaders for us. Batts did everything she could today. She was already nursing an injury and she was throwing her body at the net.
"They went down battling the whole way. For us, these seniors have meant a lot more to the team than just being soccer players. They're excellent soccer players, but their attitudes and leadership helped dissolve any barriers between the classes of kids on the roster.
"A lot of times, seniors might want to run the show and have the team be about them. These seniors just wanted to win. If you saw us at practice, you'd have no idea who is a senior and who is a sophomore, and that's a credit to the seniors and their ability to manage relationships. I'm always thinking about business, that becomes a whole lot easier when the whole team is unified and feels welcomed and comfortable with each other."
The team will return plenty of playmakers next spring to make the Lakers a favorite to make it back to the regional finals, but May hopes the program can retain the same level of leadership and togetherness.
"I can find a new forward or midfielder, but I can't replace that character, that heart and that leadership," she continued. "I just have to hope that the next class will see that and apply when they become seniors.
"That's five solid gold hearts that are moving on and you can't just replace that. Everything good eventually comes to an end, and that's the saddest part of the result today. It's sad and it's frustrating because I thought we had what it takes this year."
For Spring Lake senior Tia Leary, the ability to fight through more than 100 minutes of soccer was made easier by her teammates.
"It was easier to fight because I knew everyone was there to fight with me, but it was tiring and it was hot," she said. "We have been fighting all season long, and I knew that this could be my last game of soccer. We all wanted to fight for it together. We wanted to stay, we wanted to keep playing and go further, but we couldn't close it out."
In the overtime and shootout sessions, it was mind over matter for the Lakers.
"Everything hurt. My body and my mind were exhausted, but I knew I had to push through, Leary added. "During the shootout, I was thinking, we only practiced a few times and I wish I had practiced more, but I knew it is kind of luck over skill. You just have to hope you hit it in the correct spot.
"It was a nerve-wracking situation. It's just sad that our season is over because of such a random event."