It was Spring Lake's third straight trip to the regional finals, and its third straight loss to Forest Hills Northern. Spring Lake fell behind early, conceding two goals in the first 22 minutes of action. The Lakers, normally very sure-footed with their passing and first-touch control, looked a bit sloppy in this game.
“I thought we would come into this game with as much confidence as we could,” said Spring Lake head coach Becky May. “But Northern came into the game like they were used to winning, and we played like we were used to losing.
“It’s hard for (Spring Lake) to put that out of their minds when the last two years the games were within a goal, and this year it was within a goal, so that’s tough.”
Spring Lake answered Forest Hills Northern late in the first half. Senior forward Laney Peasley controlled the ball in the center of the penalty box, but instead of firing a shot, calmly left a pass for freshman Meah Bajt, who blasted one in the back of the net. Game on.
It appeared the Lakers were ready to make a valiant comeback, having lost to Forest Hills Northern by one goal and in a shootout during the last two regional finals. But they just couldn’t muster enough offense, frequently losing possession with rushed passes.
“I saw moments of our (normal) game,” May said. “We’d get into a rhythm but then it would break down. Northern put the ball in the air a lot. We are a possession team and we like having the ball at our feet, but Northern just kept it in the air and made us chase.
“We continued to try and possess, but we gave up the ball a couple of times, and my girls just got worn out chasing the ball. We couldn’t control the pace of the game. Northern’s game plan was effective. They kept it in the air and we couldn’t get possession.”
Throughout the second half, Spring Lake struggled to keep the ball in its offensive half of the pitch. Forest Hills Northern was quick to cover space, often clearing the ball before the Lakers could spring an attack. Whether it was heat related, or just pure exhaustion from playing Forest Hills Northern’s style, Spring Lake looked a bit sluggish reacting to loose balls.
“I think the biggest issue for us was the lack of a strong conference,” May said, holding nothing back regarding the O-K Blue Conference. “We usually mercy half a dozen teams, and then come into games like this and have to switch gears. We had a few competitive games in the regular season, but not many, so that’s a tough adjustment to make.”
Although the Lakers are set to lose seven senior starters, May believes the program is in great hands, and there might even be a budding rivalry with Forest Hills Northern, which only had two seniors on its entire roster.
“I think (there might be a rivalry),” May said. “We have some young kids excited to come back next season to see what they can do.”
Spring Lake caused some excitement late in the game, firing a strike in the bottom-left corner of the goal with just 40 seconds remaining. However, Forest Hills Northern’s keeper punched it away. But the Lakers would not end their streak of one-goal losses against Forest Hills Northern, as junior Phoebe Saunders tapped in a goal with three seconds remaining.
While Spring Lake’s season came to an abrupt end Friday, it was still a season to remember. Peasley broke the school’s all-time goal-scoring record, matching her head coach. May has the all-time scoring record at Grand Haven, and she was thrilled for her star player.
“Laney is kind of my soul sister,” May said. “I’ve been rooting for her all season. We’ve been close, and she will be another huge loss for us on the field, in practice and on our bus rides. Her record helped make the season a little more special.”