By Jacob Arvidson
SPRING LAKE – Defense wins championships.
The Lakers trailed at halftime, then turned up the defensive intensity and rallied for a 56-42 victory over a strong Whitehall squad on their home court.
The Lakers improved to 17-6 on the season. They will face Hudsonville Unity Christian in the regional semifinals on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Sparta High School.
The battle-tested Lakers did not establish control until the third quarter.
With the majority of attention focused on Whitehall standout Lucas Schumm, scoring opportunities opened up for his teammate, Brandon Rake, in the paint. The Vikings’ big man took advantage, tallying 10 points in the first half.
Rake’s defense was disruptive as well. He swatted two Spring Lake shots away with authority during the second quarter, which helped swing the momentum toward Whitehall.
The Vikings used that momentum to take a 27-25 lead into the break.
But Spring Lake Coach Bill Core delivered a halftime message about defense that calmed and refocused his Lakers.
“When we were going into the locker room, Whitehall’s whole team was screaming like they were up by 20 when they were only up by two,” said Spring Lake senior guard Cameron Ball. “Coach just said we had to get back to our game and focus on playing defense, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Spring Lake came out of the locker room with a new intensity. The Lakers applied heavy ball pressure early, forcing five steals in third quarter and turning them into quick points on the other end.
The Lakers outscored the Vikings 14-4 in the third quarter to take a 39-31 lead into the fourth.
The dominant defense stemmed from Ball, Isaiah Pierce and Jack VanWingen.
Ball forced seven steals over the course of the game and turned them into eight transition points. Ball and Pierce combined to shut down Schumm, holding the Whitehall sharp-shooter to a pair of field goals and seven points.
Core said containing Schumm was a big key to the win.
“Nobody’s going to do it by themselves, it has to be team defense, but we’re going to start with Isaiah on him and we like our chances. We bring in Cameron Ball when Isaiah needs a rest, and you could tell Luc was tired at the end of the game.”
VanWingen’s defense didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he was very effective after he was assigned to guard another big Whitehall scorer, Drew Young, in the second quarter.
Young led the Vikings with four points in the first quarter and hit a triple early in the second, but only had two points the rest of the way.
“Jack has been steady all week long,” Core said. “On Monday he guarded Merrit Hamaan for Montague, who’s averaging 16 a game, and he had zero. On Wednesday he guarded Morgan Meinders (from Oakridge) and he had zero points.
“He is a defense wizard and he’s in a great groove for us right now.”
Whitehall fought back in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Rake and a free throw by Schumm cut the Lakers’ lead to 46-41 with 3:36 remaining.
But the Vikings only scored one more point after that. Ball and VanWingen’s free throws iced the game down the stretch.
“Everybody has a closer,” Core said. “If Whitehall’s ahead, Lucas Schumm is getting to the free throw line. If Spring Lake is ahead, Cameron Ball is getting to the free throw line.”
Rake paced Whitehall with a game-high 20 points.
Ball’s 15 points and seven steals led Spring Lake. Sam Johnson added 14 points and three blocks and VanWingen scored 12 points to go along with 10 rebounds.