By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
Good basketball teams – like Spring Lake – find ways to win.
Even though rival Fruitport outplayed the Lakers most of the way Friday night, Coach Bill Core’s team escaped with a thrilling 53-52 Lakes 8 victory.
It wasn’t decided until Amilio Flores’ short shot in traffic just missed the mark before the final buzzer.
“We are conference champions for a reason,” Core said after his Lakers improved to 16-2 overall and 11-0 in the league. “Champions win this kind of game and find a way.
“I don’t think we’ve been down eight points all year. We found a way and I can’t be more proud of them.”
It was a back-and-forth contest from the start and featured two stellar individual performances. Austin Johnson sparked the Lakers with 23 points and Aaron Veihl produced 23 points and three assists.
Spring Lake trailed 48-40 after mobile post player Flores hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. The Lakers came charging back to set up an exciting finish.
Veihl missed a pair of one-and-ones in the final minute, the second with 28 seconds left and the Trojans leading 52-51.
That set up a mad scramble under the Lakers’ basket after Johnson missed a layup. The ball went to the floor and Johnson somehow came up with it and scored the winning basket with 14 seconds remaining.
Fruitport coach Bill Andree called timeout with 8.6 seconds to set up the potential winning shot.
Veihl drove the lane and dished the ball to Flores, who could not convert near the basket with a pair of Lakers defending.
“I thought he made that shot at the end,” Johnson said. “He got a good look.”
Spring Lake can close out an unbeaten league season if it beats Fremont next week.
The Lakers won the first meeting against Fruitport 45-28. But the Trojans played like a whole different team in the rematch.
“Veihl was tremendous,” Core said. “I thought Fruitport played great tonight. We were fortunate the way it played out.”
It proved to be another frustrating loss for the Trojans, who have suffered three other down-to-the-wire league defeats.
“We had a good look at the end and it didn’t fall for us,” said Fruitport coach Bill Andree, whose team falls to 8-9 overall and 6-6 in the league. “We battled and came that close to handing them their first (league) loss. That is probably the most crisp we’ve looked all year. We have good senior leadership out there.”
Kyle Zietlow converted three 3-pointers en route to 12 points for the Lakers. Nick Geoglein chipped in with six points and eight rebounds, with Erik Johnson grabbing six rebounds and Adam Clauss dishing off four assists.
Flores finished with 11 points, Tyler Fehler contributed nine pints, four rebounds, three assists and two steals and Caleb Cutler added six assists.
Spring Lake led 13-12 after one quarter and 28-25 at halftime.
The Trojans – fueled by Veihl’s nine points – bolted to a 33-39 lead after three quarters.
But the Lakers found a way to pull out the victory after facing an eight-point deficit.
Fruitport returns to action Saturday with another tough contest against West Michigan Conference champion Montague.
Spring Lake 53, Fruitport 52
SPRING LAKE (16-2, 11-0)
Kyle Zietlow 4 1-1 12, Adam Clauss 1 2-3 5, JP Batts 1 0-0 2, Charlie Warber 1 0-0 2, Austin Johnson 10 2-3 23, Erik Johnson 1 1-2 3, Nick Goeglein 3 0-0 6. Totals 21 6-9 53.
FRUITPORT (8-9, 6-6)
Tyler Fehler 3 2-2 9, Aaron Veihl 8 6-9 23, Caleb Cutler 2 0-0 5, Amilio Flores 4 2-2 11, Travis Grimm 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 10-13 52.
Spring Lake 13-15-11-14-53
3-pointers-Zietlow (3), Clauss, A. Johnson; Fehler, Veihl, Cutler, Flores. Total fouls-Spring Lake 12, Fruitport 12. Fouled out-none.