By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
SPRING LAKE – The Spring Lake Lakers can sink crucial free throws under intense pressure, even with their season on the line.
That proved to be a necessary skill for the Lakers Friday night, because Coopersville refused to give up.
Spring Lake led for most of the sloppy but exciting Class B district championship game, and had a 12- point edge midway through the third quarter.
But Coopersville kept battling back, and used a flurry of points in the final three minutes of regulation to stun the crowd and force overtime.
But fouls were a problem for Coopersville all night, and the Lakers took advantage when it mattered most. They nailed 11 of 14 from the charity stripe in overtime to pull out a thrilling 69-60 victory over Coopersville and claim their second consecutive Class B district championship.
Kyle Zietlow was the hero in overtime, hitting a bucket and six free throws for the Lakers.
Spring Lake, now 17-6, advances to regional play Monday against Comstock Park at Godwin Heights High School at 6 p.m. The Lakers are hoping to go farther than last season, when they lost in the first round of regionals.
The win provided a measure of revenge for Spring Lake, which lost an overtime game to Coopersville by three points in the regular season.
“We knew it was going to be relentless with their defensive pressure,” said Spring Lake coach Bill Core, whose team also won its second consecutive Lakes 8 Conference title this season. “They are like the energizer bunny – they just keep coming back, over and over and over. I’ve been following them all season and they keeping having these comebacks.
“When it went to overtime was when we deserved the most credit. When you have a 10 or 11 point lead and lose it and they have the momentum and you have to pick yourself up, it’s hard, but we still managed to get a nine-point victory.”
The game was a fast-paced, physical, error-prone affair between two teams that wanted to win badly.
Coopersville opened the game icy cold, missing eight of its first nine shots from the floor. But the Broncos found their range and outscored the hosts 13-7 in the final 2:40 to grab a 17-13 lead at the first buzzer.
For a while it seemed as though that was as well as Coopersville would do.
Spring Lake hit 6 of 9 field goal attempts in the second quarter to grab a 31-27 halftime lead, then expanded its edge to 41-29 three minutes into the third quarter following two three-pointers by Zietlow and two layups from Nick Goeglein.
The Lakers held a 45-38 edge at the third buzzer.
But the Broncos never seemed to notice that the game was slipping away. They chipped away at the Spring Lake lead throughout the fourth quarter, then tied the game at 54-54 with 44 seconds remaining following consecutive layups by Joseph Dekkenga.
Spring Lake had possession of the ball with 10 seconds remaining and a chance to seal the win, but a Laker was called for an offensive charge with 1.9 seconds left and the game went to overtime.
That’s where foul trouble finally caught up with the Broncos. The Lakers had 14 free throw opportunities in the overtime period and converted 11 to put the game out of reach.
Zietlow led the overtime surge with eight points, including six free throws. George added three key free throws down the stretch for the Lakers.
Goeglein finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds for Spring Lake. George added 18 points, six rebounds and three steals while Zietlow totaled 17 point, five assists and three steals.
Overall Spring Lake outscored Coopersville 26-12 from the charity stripe, which proved to be the difference in the contest. The Broncos were whistled for 27 personal fouls in the game, including seven in overtime. Spring Lake had 19 personal fouls.
Coopersville managed to rally in the second half despite having several key players in serious foul trouble.
Both teams also suffered from bouts of sloppy play. Spring Lake had 21 turnovers while Coopersville totaled 19.
“We fouled them a lot,” said Coopersville coach Pete VanKampen, whose team finished 13-9. “I thought we played really hard. I thought their big kid (Goeglien) did a nice job inside, but we did a nice job in the second half keeping him away from the ball, which is why we came back.
“We had our chances but overtime was foul city. I don’t know what happened.”
Dekkenga finished with 21 points and eight rebounds for Coopersville.