By Nate Thompson

SPRING LAKE — For nearly the entire first half, the Spring Lake and Ludington girls basketball teams seemed like they were heading for a nail-biter finish.Midnight sun featured imageLSJ Logo incert

That would have been expected in a showdown between two teams fighting for a league title.

But the host Lakers made sure that didn’t happen, thanks to a determined man-to-man defensive effort and the inside play of senior center Remi French.

Reiko Johnson dibbles the ball at half court for Spring Lake. Photo/Jason Goorman

Reiko Johnson dibbles the ball at half court for Spring Lake. Photo/Jason Goorman

Spring Lake forced Ludington into 18 turnovers, and the 6-foot-2 French dominated the paint throughout the second half, leading the Lakers to a 59-48 victory that keeps them in contention for a Lakes 8 Conference championship.

The Lakers now need some help from the team they just beat. Ludington will travel to first-place Fruitport on Feb. 26, with a chance to potentially create a three-way tie atop the league standings.

The Lakers and Orioles each have two conference losses, while the Trojans sport one league setback.

“I told (Ludington coach) Thad (Shank) afterwards, ‘Now do us a favor and go out and beat Fruitport,'” said Spring Lake coach Cavin Mohrhardt, whose squad is 12-3 overall. “We played extremely well tonight. And I think Ludington can (beat Fruitport), so it’s anybody’s game.”

After the Lakers’ loss to Fruitport last Friday, French said they realized that the contest against Ludington was a must-win.

French did her part to make it happen, turning in a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

“We knew this was a huge game,” French said. “We had to step up as a team. I took charge. We had to play with energy and I wanted to make sure that everyone else on the team got that energy. So playing like that helps the team.”

Kristen Reidenbach looks to drive through the land for Ludington. Photo/Jason Goorman

Kristen Reidenbach looks to drive through the land for Ludington. Photo/Jason Goorman

Spring Lake tried to frazzle the Orioles with full-court pressure early on, but Ludington exposed it by beating the Lakers up the court and finding open shooters. The Orioles (8-7 overall) finished with seven 3-pointers.

“We dropped back to a three-quarter court press,” said Mohrhardt, whose Lakers trailed 17-14 after one. “We were too spread out, and we weren’t getting back really well and getting a hand in front of their shooters. You rest for a second and Ludington can really bury some shots.”

Spring Lake closed out the first half with an 11-5 run, sparked by three steals by junior guard Olivia Grimmer, and a key hustle play by Madelyn Nelson at the buzzer.

Nelson grabbed a loose ball and was fouled on a shot attempt as the horn sounded. She swished both free throws, giving the Lakers a 31-24 lead at halftime.

French continued the momentum in the third, scoring all six of her points on offensive putbacks. The Lakers extended their lead to 45-34 at the third buzzer.

“It was just nerves early on,” French said of her slow first quarter. “But once I got settled in, that’s what got me the ball more, got us flowing more. But also, without other teammates, I could never get the ball.

“We focused a lot on defense this week,” she added. “We struggled the last time (at Ludington) because they were driving right by us. That wasn’t going to be happening tonight.”

Spring Lake’s lock down man-to-man defense and 27-9 rebounding advantage helped the Lakers build its largest lead, 47-34, early in the fourth quarter.

Junior point guard Reiko Johnson iced the victory by using her tremendous dribbling skills to break the Orioles’ pressure. She also sank 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the closing 1:38. The 5-3 spark plug scored 19 points, with five assists and five steals.

Ludington junior forward Ali Plamondon battled early foul trouble but led her team with 14 points. Junior guard Jenna Keson drained three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points.