ALLENDALE – Every long playoff run needs a bit of luck. Spring Lake found out the hard way that theirs ran out on Saturday morning.
In a penalty kick shootout, Reeths-Puffer won the Division 2, District 31 final over the Lakers after the match finished 1-1. There was contention throughout the game after a number of questionable refereeing decisions – a handful of which went against Spring Lake – including the first kick of the shootout.
Sophomore Aidan Parker had guessed correctly and saved Jaxon Carpenter’s kick towards the bottom left. The referees then called for a retake after judging that Parker moved off his line early. Carpenter sent the retake into the bottom-right corner, and the Rockets held the advantage. Porter Saunders and Sheldon Bunnell had their spot-kicks saved by Rocket goalkeeper DaMario Chapman, and although Ben Bush scored his penalty for the Lakers, Reeths-Puffer had made their other two attempts. Rocket defender Dylan Cox sent Parker the wrong way, and at 4-1 in the shootout there was no way back for Spring Lake.
“I don’t think we played our best first half by any means,” Spring Lake head coach Jeremy Thelen said. “They scored early, and we had to dig ourselves out of a hole. We worked much better in the second half and didn’t score the goal we needed. I think there is a psychological thing when Aidan makes his save and then it has to be retaken.”
Spring Lake will rue their missed chances after the Rockets took the lead through Brady Wheeler. A pass through the Spring Lake defense found Wheeler in space, and his low shot seemed to roll in slow-motion along the grass into the far corner, well out of Parker’s reach. Six minutes in, the Lakers had time to respond.
It took until midway through the first half for the Spring Lake attack to really get going, as Brandon Mazurkiewicz was the standout defender in both halves for Reeths-Puffer. Spring Lake midfielder Clayton Glasgow hit the crossbar with a long, arcing shot shortly after the Rocket goal. However, the Lakers had difficulty stringing passes and pressure along early in the game.
Mulder hit a free kick just wide with 10 minutes to play in the half, and the first half ended with the Rockets leading by a goal.
Thelen emphasized working harder in the second half, and there was renewed effort early on. The Lakers were quicker to the ball and a little more dangerous going forward. However, Reeths-Puffer continued to keep the Lakers away from making clear chances. It took a set piece for the Lakers to tie things up, Mulder squeezing a free kick inside the post from short range with 19:34 left.
A tiring Rocket defense began to worry after the goal. Saunders had a shot pushed wide, and Glasgow shot softly after collecting the ball with some space in the penalty area.
Sheldon Bunnell might have had the best chance for the Lakers in regulation. With just over 3 minutes left, Keegan Fritsche’s pass ended up with Bunnell, and his volley beat Chapman but rose just over the crossbar.
The Lakers had most of the chances in overtime as well. Mulder hit the bar in the first 10-minute period, and had space to shoot shortly after the restart. His low shot was hit right at Chapman, and the overtime fizzled out until the penalty shootout.
“We feel we played well enough to win,” Glasgow said. “We worked hard and responded in the second half. It’s unfortunate it ended the way it did. Hopefully the guys can learn from that in the future.”
“The second half, we worked hard,” Laker senior Armani Abiertas added. “We played our hearts out. We missed a lot of opportunities, but we can’t change that now.”
For the Spring Lake seniors, the loss is tough to stomach after an undefeated regular season in conference and talent in all three position groups.
“They worked hard all season long,” Thelen said. Gavin DeVowe, Mulder, Glasgow and Abiertas were mainstays in each area of the field, while Caden Ruter, Josh Britton and Connor Hallberg all featured prominently throughout the year. Liam Beck was on the sidelines after undergoing successful knee surgery on Wednesday.
“We can be proud of how we went out,” Glasgow said. “It’s never fun to lose, but we worked hard. We’re proud of how hard we worked this year and the example we set for the younger guys. I love every one of my teammates like a brother. They’ll be good next year, I’m excited.”
Reeths-Puffer will play the winner of a game between Byron Center and Holland on Tuesday at Grand Rapids Christian.
Contact Kyle Turk at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KyleTurkGHT.