By Steve Gunn

SPRING LAKE – Most of Monday’s Lakes 8 Conference showdown game was frustrating for Spring Lake’s Reiko Johnson.

The standout sophomore guard, who averages 16 points per game, had only two points through the first three quarters, mostly due to an aggressive Ludington defense that neutralized her outside shooting.

Reiko Johnson drives to the wing against Ludington's Kalli Wahr. Photo/Jason Goorman

Reiko Johnson drives to the wing against Ludington’s Kalli Wahr. Photo/Jason Goorman

To complicate matters, she drew her fourth foul late in the game, and was one misstep away from going to the bench. She also missed her first two free throws of the fourth quarter, when the game was still very close.

But Johnson didn’t let the lack of production get under her skin. Her opportunity to make a difference came at the end, and she calmly made the most of it.

Johnson nailed 8 of 10 free throws in the final 1:25 of the game, helping Spring Lake pull away for a 52-42 victory over the second-place Orioles and clinch their second straight Lakes 8 Conference championship.

“It felt really good, especially since those first two free throws rimmed in and out,” said Johnson, who finished with 10 points, three rebounds and four assists. “When we played them up there, I missed the front end of three one-and-one (free throw opportunities), all in the fourth quarter, so this felt pretty good. It was kind of like a stab back at them.”

Kelsee Zuidema pulls down the offensive rebound for Spring Lake. Photo/Jason Goorman

Kelsee Zuidema pulls down the offensive rebound for Spring Lake. Photo/Jason Goorman

Spring Lake, now a perfect 19-0 overall and 9-0 in the league, established a new school record for girls basketball victories in one season.

The Lakers will try to put the finishing touches on a perfect regular season when they host Orchard View on Friday.

“We knew we needed one more win this week (to take the conference),” said Spring Lake Coach Rich Hyde, whose team shared the league title with Ludington last season. “If we didn’t get one more we ended up with nothing.

“The girls were so focused and played so hard. It all had to do with trying to get that championship, and they wanted to do it against the (other) best team in the conference.”

Johnson wasn’t the only hero Monday.

Senior post player Kelsee Zuidema carried the scoring load for most of the game, allowing the Lakers to pull away at the end.

She hit key buckets every time Ludington crept within a few points, including several on 15-foot turnaround jumpers in the second half.

Kristen Reidenbach drives the lane against Spring Lake's Randi Rice. Photo/Jason Goorman

Kristen Reidenbach drives the lane against Spring Lake’s Randi Rice. Photo/Jason Goorman

Zuidema finished with a game-high 23 points and 14 rebounds.

Spring Lake also received key buckets throughout the contest from Randi Rice (8 points), Olivia Grimmer, Emily Van Wingen and Remi French.

French and Rice also combined for 12 important rebounds.

“What a phenomenal game for Kelsee,” Hyde said about Zuidema. “She was banged up a little bit, and I couldn’t afford to take her out, so she was a little winded at the end. But every time we needed a key bucket she answered.”

The game came down to free throws because the Lakers, who led the entire game, failed to put the Orioles away until the bitter end.

Spring Lake led 26-16 late in the second quarter, before a 6-1 Ludington burst left the score 27-22 at halftime.

The Lakers led 31-25 and 35-29 at different points in the third quarter, before Ludington’s Ali Plamondon and Brandy Thomas hit back-to-back buckets to narrow the score to 35-33 at the third buzzer.

Olivia Grimmer floats a shot in the lane against Ludington's Brandy Thomas. Photo/Jason Goorman

Olivia Grimmer floats a shot in the lane against Ludington’s Brandy Thomas. Photo/Jason Goorman

Ludington hurt itself in the fourth quarter with five turnovers, including three in the first two minutes. The Orioles also lost their shooting touch, going 3-for-10 from the floor in the quarter.

“They did a great job of guarding us hard and limiting the 3-pointer,” said Ludington Coach Thad Shank, whose team is now 14-5 overall and 7-2 in the Lakes 8. “And we fumbled the ball two or three times after steals that could have easily been layups that could have swung the game in our direction.”

That means the Orioles had to foul as the clock ticked down, and the Lakers took advantage. They scored 11 from the line in the fourth quarter, along with two key baskets by Zuidema and one by Rice.

The most important points came from Johnson, who made eight straight free throws to put the championship on ice.

“I was really happy for her,” Hyde said about Johnson. “She’s got ice in her veins most of the time. It was nice, after she got beat up most of the game, to see her make a difference at the end.”

Claire Flewelling led a balanced Ludington attack with nine points while Thomas added eight and Madilyn Shank added two 3-pointers.