By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
The drought is over the Spring Lake Lakers on the basketball court.
The Lakers, led by seniors Austin Johnson in the first half and Adam Clauss in the fourth quarter, defeated rival Grand Haven 50-42 on Friday night in front of an emotionally charged crowd at the home of the Lakers.
“We didn’t relax until that final buzzer,” said Clauss, who knocked down a huge 3-pointer and 7-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter. “We wanted this so bad. We expected to win this game, honestly.
“Other years they had strong teams, but we just thought we were a little stronger,” said Clauss, who finished with 13 points. “We knew if we played our game, we could win the game. We were really confident going in.”
No one seemed real certain on how many games Grand Haven had won in a row, but Spring Lake athletic director Cavin Mohrhardt said the last time the Lakers came out on top was 1987. The teams have not played every year since then, but that didn’t seem to matter to the Lakers.
Mohrhardt said Spring Lake has celebrated just four times – 1971, 1975, 1987 and Friday night. It was the sixth time the teams have battled for the traveling Drawbridge Classic plaque in the six years that has been up for grabs.
The Lakers led from start to finish, including a 7-0 run to start the game.
“In this rivalry, in the past, it seems like we’ve always gotten behind early and had to fight back and it was too big of an uphill battle, ” Spring Lake Bill Core said. “Tonight, we were able to get ahead early.”
Friday was a whole different story with the Lakers using some hot shooting from Johnson and Kyle Zietlow, who stepped into the starting lineup after Erik Johnson was unable to play due to illness.
“We insert Kyle Zietlow into the starting lineup and he has a career night tonight,” Core said. “Kyle came in and got us off to a great start.”
Zietlow, a sophomore, scored five points in each of the first two quarters and finished the game with 15 points. He made 5-of-6 free throws in the fourth quarter as the Lakers built up their lead to the final buzzer.
Spring Lake led 16-13 at the first stop and 29-22 at the half.
Then came a third quarter that left both coaches shaking their heads.
“We just couldn’t capitalize even though we felt good about it defensively,” Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt said. “I thought we had some decent opportunities.”
Turnovers, missed open shots, missed free throws and some stellar defense kept the game close. Grand Haven outscored Spring Lake 7-2 in the third quarter and pulled to within 31-29 with eight minutes to go.
The Lakers scored 16 points in the final quarter, including 13 from the line.
The remaining three points came on a 3-pointer from Clauss with 2:39 left in the game.
“That was the ‘no, no, no … great shot,'” said Core. “It was right in front of my chair.”
On the Bucs’ ensuing possession, Clauss drew a charging foul.
After that, the Laker clinched the victory from the line. In the final quarter, the Lakers made 16-of-24 from the line, 18-for-28 from the line.
“Because we knew both teams were good free-throw shooters, having that lead near the end was a key and it worked out that way,” Core said.
In the final two minutes, Clauss and Austin Johnson made three free throws each and Zietlow made one.
Grand Haven’s Ty VanWieren canned a 3-pointer, Ethan Groothuis scored with the left hand in the paint, but the lead had grown too much for the Bucs.
“At critical times, I don’t think we played well offensively and we forced some things,” Hewitt said. “It’s hard when you’re not scoring and we’re so close, probably four or six points, and had we just stayed patient … the kids just didn’t execute in key moments, I think.”
Austin Johnson finished with 17 points, Zietlow had 15 and Clauss had 13. Johnson added seven rebounds and Nick Goeglein had five.
Sean Steffel led Grand Haven with 16 points and VanWieren had 11.