The Rockets came out firing after dropping the regular season matchup 8-5 to give up a conference title, scoring two quick transition goals in the opening minutes of play to put the Lakers in a hole early.
Spring Lake got on the board in the final minute of the first quarter, beginning a comeback effort that left them trailing 3-2 at first break, ahead 4-3 at halftime, 6-5 heading to the fourth and 8-5 with three minutes left in the game.
A two-man down situation set up a manic finish on defense for the Lakers. Reeths-Puffer scored the 4-on-6 opportunity, cutting the lead to two, but releasing just one of the two penalties with 2:18 to play.
Still man down, Caleb Montgomery snagged a faceoff win, allowing Spring Lake to call a timeout and presumably run down the penalty clock. On the restart, a Rocket double team on the ball forced a turnover, which they took the length of the field for another transition goal to cut the lead to 8-7 with 1:21 left to play and 46 seconds left on the Lakers’ non-releasable penalty.
Another clutch faceoff win gave Spring Lake the chance to run the clock, but again, they failed to kill the penalty. This time, though, they gave the ball up on a goal of their own, as Danton Molotky found an open lane to the net and cashed in for the game winner with 55 seconds on the clock.
One final stop on defense sealed the win, triggering a relieved celebration at Spring Lake High School.
Photo Gallery: Spring Lake lacrosse edges Reeths-Puffer
“It is hard to beat a team twice,” said Spring Lake head coach Doug Sharp. “You figure you did something right the first time, so you try to do it again. Neighbors, rivals, there isn’t a chance we are overlooking Reeths-Puffer. You just have to work hard and outhustle and the boys did that tonight.”
Sean Carrns led the way with three goals for Spring Lake, while Colby Brown added two and Dom Molotky, Caleb Montgomery and Jake Vinkemulder each added one. Danton Molotky paired his late goal with one assist to round out the score sheet.
After the tricky start, Spring Lake’s defense locked in to play an impressive game lasting through the extended man-down period in the fourth to grease the win.
“We’ve been relying on the defense all year and we did again today,” Sharp said. “My wife likes to say we are better man-down than we are man-up. We scored another man-down goal today and we’ve got all the confidence in our defense if its four, five or six guys out there.
“In the end, you want to hold the ball and try to kill that penalty. But, at the same time if they are giving up the middle of the field, and they were pressuring us way outside there, then you gotta take it. If Danton goes in there and misses, I’m yelling at him. But, he is more than capable and made it. He saw an opportunity and got the job done.”
After falling behind 3-0, coach Sharp burned a timeout with 3:52 left in the first quarter to talk some sense into his team as the defense struggled to keep up in transition and the offense could not possess the ball.
“I just told them to calm down and play our game,” Sharp said. “First things first, that faceoff guy was eating us alive. We had to figure that out and then just calm down and play.”
The speech worked, as the Lakers managed to maintain possession on offense through eight rips at the cage over the final three minutes of the quarter, finally netting one from the stick of Dominic Molotky.
The Spring Lake offense came out inspired in the second quarter. Brown picked up the first goal, recovering from a cross check to the head, triggering a two-minute non-releasable penalty, for the first of his two behind-the-back goals, tying the game at 3-3. Jason Vinkemulder took the final lead change of the game, scooping a loose ball and dodging to the cage for a goal.
The third quarter saw a man-up goal by Carrns from downtown to push the lead to 5-3, before Reeths-Puffer netted back-to-back goals to tie the game up once again. Carrns, upset his lead was taken, finished his hat trick to end the third up 6-5.
Montgomery netted a dodge-and-dunk from behind the cage to kick off the fourth quarter, setting up the wild finish.
The win earns the Lakers a rematch with East Grand Rapids in the regional finals, after falling to the Pioneers 16-2 in last year’s final at Memorial Field in EGR.
This year, Spring Lake hopes to flip the result playing on their turf at the Yard.
“They are a good team,” Sharp said. “They have certainly been there before, but now so have we. We’re just looking forward to the opportunity to play in a regional final.
“We have had a special team all year and we want to keep doing things we have never done before.”
Face-off next Tuesday is scheduled for 6 p.m.