By Aaron Poling

FRUITPORT – The Spring Lake and Reeths-Puffer soccer teams are no strangers when it comes to postseason play.

The Lakers and Rockets have gone head-to-head in district competition for five straight years, and every one of those games has been decided by one goal.

Spring Lake’s No. 9 Hunter Malaski moves the ball with Darren Patterson defending. Photo/Tony Pardon

The latest edition of that tight postseason rivalry unfolded on Thursday in a Division 2 district championship game, with the teams playing two overtime periods before Spring Lake escaped with a 3-2 victory at Fruitport High School.

Benjamin Bush scored the game-winning goal for the Lakers with 2:40 remaining in the second OT.

The Lakers regrouped and got the win and the championship after giving up two late R-P goals when they were less than 90 seconds away from winning in regulation.

“We caught our breath at the overtime and pulled ourselves together,” said Spring Lake Coach Jeremy Thelen. “We knew we could do it. We didn’t fold, we didn’t lose it and kept ourselves mentally together.”

The Lakers, now 10-1-4 on the season, advance to play Forest Hills Eastern on Tuesday at Cedar Springs High School in regional semifinals.

The Rockets finished the season with a 6-8-4 record.

Spring Lake opened the scoring with 19:11 left in the first half, when a corner kick was played into the box, the ball bounced around, and Keegan Fritsche buried it into the right corner of the net.

The score stayed the same for the rest of the first half and most of the second, before a Laker had a breakaway opportunity and was fouled inside the R-P box.

Reeths-Puffer’s No. 10 Jaxon Carpenter dribbles past Ben DesJardin. Photo/Tonya Pardon

Sheldon Bunnell took the penalty kick and sent a left-footed shot into the top left corner of the goal, giving Spring Lake a commanding 2-0 lead with 9:31 left in regulation.

“I’m right-footed, and I usually don’t take them with my left,” Bunnell said. “The past few days I have been hitting them with my left, just to mess around. Coach hates that, but I figured, why not?”

Just when the Lakers tasted victory, the Rockets roared back and tied the game in pretty unusual circumstances.

R-P’s Ashton Carpenter made a run down the right side of the field and was fouled in the box. A skirmish ensued and a Rocket player was ejected from the game with a red card with 3:07 remaining.

That meant Reeths-Puffer had to finish the game a player short, with 11 Lakers on the field and only 10 Rockets.

But Carpenter still got a penalty shot for the original infraction that started the skirmish and buried it, making the score 2-1 with 3:07 left in regulation.

The Rockets completed the impressive comeback with only 1:21 left on the clock when Jaxon Carpenter dribbled between a few Laker defenders and sent a crossing pass through the box. Preston Carpenter got the ball and scored, and suddenly the game was tied 2-2.

“I wasn’t really surprised, our guys like to embody the underdog,” said Reeths-Puffer Coach Kody Harrell about the unlikely comeback. “I think in a silly kind of way the red card fired our boys up. We’re not supposed to win this game, with eight minutes to go and we’re down two goals, but we won all the hustle plays in the last eight minutes.”

The first 10-minute overtime was scoreless, and the second OT was almost the same, before Fritsche sent a ball past the Rockets’ defense to Bush, who buried it into the middle of the net with 2:40 remaining.

That gave Spring Lake a 3-2 lead that help up for the last two minutes, and the Lakers claimed the conference trophy.

“I pinged it as hard as I could into the middle of the net, but I can’t really take too much credit for it – (Fritsche) set it up for me,” Bush said about his game-winner.

Spring Lake outshot Reeths Puffer 9-5. Rockets keeper Gage Hopkins made six saves while Lakers keeper Aidan Parker stopped three shots in the winning effort.