By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

FREMONT – Spring Lake’s storybook boys basketball season came to an end on Monday night, 49-48, to the Sparta Spartans.

The Class B regional semifinal game was played at Fremont High School. Sparta moves into Wednesday’s 7 p.m. regional final game against Big Rapids, which defeated Alma in the second game of the evening.

Spring Lake’s season of highlights included a school record 21 victories, a win over Grand Haven, an undefeated season in the Lakes 8 and its first district title since 1995. Throw in the fact that senior Austin Johnson broke the school’s all-time scoring mark and it certainly was a memorable season for the Lakers.

But on Monday night, the scrappy Spartans overcame a four-point deficit in the final 3 minutes to advance to the regional title game.

“It was a chess match and were not able to get checkmate,” said Spring Lake coach Bill Core, whose team had the ball with 8 seconds remaining, but lost the ball on the inbounds play.

“With 8 seconds to go, if I’m not mistaken, we had one foul to give,” Cnossen said. “We were screaming and screaming and screaming, I thought they heard me in Kentucky, but we wanted to foul and get the ball. It was panic because that kid (Austin Johnson) can play ball. He can get to the rim with 8 seconds left.”

Actually, the Lakers had other plans for trying to set up a possible game-winning shot, but that strategy backfired when the Spartans turned up the defense on the inbounds play. The Lakers planned to get the ball on a backside lob to Erik Johnson, but the Lakers were forced to get the ball in to Austin Johnson, who was knocked to the floor and the ball was taken away.

Spring Lake overcame an early deficit in the first quarter and used a 16-5 run to take an 18-11 lead after eight minutes.

Sparta stormed back on the stretch of Evan Stubbs, who scored nine of his 14 points in a second quarter in which the Spartans took a 26-25 lead into the half.

“Evan Stubbs came out and hit some big 3s,” Sparta coach Mike Cnossen said. “He’s just made some big buckets and that made a difference in the first half.”

Austin Johnson put his team on this back in the third quarter and scored seven of his 17 points. After three quarters, the game was tied at 39-all.

There wasn’t a lot of scoring in the final quarter, but the Lakers were able to take a 48-44 lead with 3 minutes left on a 3-pointer by J.P. Batts.

Beau Dunneback hit a free throw with 2:12 left and Ben Scheckler scored on a bank shot with 1:33 to to go pull Sparta to within 48-47 with 1:33 left.

Austin Johnson scored off an offensive rebound to make it 49-48, but a turnover with 16 seconds remaining gave Sparta the ball. Scheckler missed the front end of the bonus with 14.4 seconds left and the Lakers had the ball and a chance to win the game.

After a foul, the Lakers inbounded the ball to Austin Johnson, who appeared to be pushed the floor from behind. Sparta’s Jared Bradford dove and tipped the ball back inbounds to Scheckler who grabbed the ball.

“It was a physical game the whole time,” said Core, who lauded his team’s defense, especially against Bradford, who finished with six points, 17 below his season average. Scheckler scored 11 points, six under his season average.

“Our goal was to keep those guys in the teens,” Core said. “We said if we could keep them between 13 and 17, we could win the game. They had 17 combined.”

Austin Johnson finished with 17 points and seven rebonds and Erik Johnson had 12 points. Adam Clauss chipped in six assists and six rebounds.

Spring Lake finished the season 21-3.