The No. 4 Spring Lake boys lacrosse team hosted No. 2 East Grand Rapids at the ‘Yard for the second straight regional final matchup between the two programs. The Lakers were emotional in their pursuit of the team’s first regional title, while the Pioneers were professional in their quest for a third straight state championship.
After converting their first man-up opportunity from the stick of Zach Mitchell for a 1-0 lead just two minutes into the game, Spring Lake’s offense disappeared and East Grand Rapids executed 11 unanswered goals for a 4-1 edge at the first break, 8-1 advantage at halftime and 9-1 lead heading into the fourth to advance to the state quarterfinals
“We were psyched,” senior Noah Verlinde said of the pregame mood. “After losing to them in the regional finals last year, this was our last opportunity to make history for the program. We wanted to give it everything we had.
“They are just a well-oiled machine. They don’t necessarily have the best athletes, but their stick skills are on point, they do the little things well — always, and they are well coached. Just a well-oiled machine.”
As the deficit grew for Spring Lake, so did their errors. The first half was wrought with turnovers and botched passes, while EGR excelled in every facet. From faceoff dominance to possession control, the Pioneers just didn’t make mistakes.
“That wasn’t our best game,” said Spring Lake head coach Doug Sharp. “We went into the game thinking we were ready to go. We knew we have a good offense, we had a good week of practice and were executing during warm-ups. We felt good.
“We go man-up right away. We’re supposed to get a good look that way and we did, then five minutes went by before our next offensive possession and we just never got it going. We would get the ball down there and panic and throw it away. We were looking for opportunity No. 1 instead of being patient with the ball and it just compounded. All the sudden, you’re in a big hole against a good team.”
In spite of the impeccable play by the Pioneers, the Laker defense played well throughout the contest, routinely killing penalties with quality man-down play. The relentless attack meant one takeaway wasn’t enough, as loose balls found the Pioneers sticks at a high clip. Even a good slide couldn’t deter the Pioneers, as their half-field offense was flush with backdoors, second options and stellar passing.
“We did battle on defense,” Sharp said. “We watched them last week and had some other film to study and their middies were better than I have seen them. They did a nice job getting us on our heels by getting a step and starting the slide. From there, it is an uphill battle and they had two or three moves and wrinkles beyond that.”
When the Lakers did find possession on offense, identifying a weak spot in the EGR defense was tough. Most possessions saw crisp passing around the horn with nothing opening up for a dodge, shot or otherwise.
“Their faceoff guy did a good job keeping the ball away from us,” Sharp said. “We just couldn’t find a look.”
After two straight trips to the regional finals, Spring Lake lacrosse finished the regular season at No. 4 in the Division 2 rankings. With Forest Hills Central holding the No. 1 spot, EGR No. 2 and Forest Hills Eastern and Northern rounding out the top five, the Lakers have their work cut out for them here on the west side. The final step toward contention is putting it all together under pressure.
“It is just that calm under fire,” Sharp said of the difference between EGR and Spring Lake. “We can throw and catch when it’s easy, but can you when you’re under pressure with someone on your hands? Can you execute the little things right all the time? We are getting there. The gap isn’t as wide as you think it would be, but that’s the difference.”
The regional-final loss ends a historic season for the Lakers, as they picked up their first O-K Conference title led by a beloved group of seniors. Through their near decade suiting up for Spring Lake lacrosse, the 16 seniors of the Class of 2019 developed into stellar players and learned the best way to play the game is together.
“They just continue to impress me. I love them,” Sharp said. “They are a great group of kids that left it all on the field every day. It’s been fun coaching them. It is a fun team.
“We were down halfway through the season at a timeout and Verlinde said, ‘Hey, let’s just go out and have fun with our friends.’ That has been our mantra since,” Sharp added. “They watched the sport, played the sport, they loved the sport. They helped give us that baseline of what it is all about.
“We had a fun year with our friends this year, for sure. I’m going to miss them.”