By Dave Hart
The Lakers led by eight points at halftime, then watched their advantage dwindle to one early in the fourth quarter after playing an uninspired third.
But Spring Lake held its composure during the final frame and nailed key free throws to defeat Hudsonville Unity Christian 53-46 at Sparta High School.
The Lakers now advance to the Class B regional finals at Sparta on Wednesday night against O-K Blue Conference foe Grand Rapids Catholic.
“I knew that this team was similar to us,” said Spring Lake Coach Bill Core about Hudsonville Unity Christian. “The play grind-it-out defense, have no superstars, and play motion offense. It was like playing against ourselves.
“I told the kids that we are evenly matched and if we played them 10 times we would go 5-5. We had a very good first half defensively, we never gave up the lead and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
Spring Lake led 10-9 after the first quarter and 27-19 at halftime.
The Crusaders put up a 14-8 run during the third quarter to cut their deficit to 35-33 heading into the fourth. They played a turnover-free third quarter after committing 11 first-half errors.
Austin Steenwyk opened the fourth quarter with a free throw to cut Unity Christian’s deficit to one point, but that was as close as the Crusaders would come.
The Lakers had an 18-13 advantage in the fourth quarter. They nailed 10 of its 13 free throws in the fourth, including 10 of its final 11 attempts from the line.
Cameron Ball nailed four free throws in the fourth while Isaiah Pierce knocked down three.
“They got pretty comfortable in their offense and we didn’t force any turnovers,” said Core about the third quarter. “We had a bad quarter, but we managed to maintain that lead to close it out.”
The Lakers were paced offensively by Jack VanWingen and Griffin Lorimer with 12 points apiece while Pierce added 10. Ball contributed eight points and nine assists.
The Crusaders were led by Steenwyk with a game-high 15 points.