By Ron Rop
You survive and advance or you lose and see your season come to an end.
Such was the case on Tuesday night when the highly ranked Newaygo Lions survived an upset bid by the scrappy Spring Lake Lakers in a girls Division 2 regional contest at Orchard View.
After 32 minutes of back-and-forth, and at times sloppy play, the Lions eeked out a 44-42 victory over the Lakers.
Senior Jaxi Long stepped up in a big way for the Lions down stretch. The senior hit a 15-foot jumper with 1:53 remaining and four free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the Lions’ 22nd victory in 23 games.
“We gutted it out,” Newaygo coach Nate Thomasma said. “There are no style points at this time of year.”
“We really had to grind it out versus Spring Lake. I do have to give credit to them. They played hard and really took us out of some stuff offensively that we wanted to do,” said Thomasma. “But in saying that, I am really proud of my team. They just kept battling when things weren’t going well and I can’t say enough positive things about their effort.”
Both teams took turns making runs throughout the contest.
Newaygo had an 8-2 run in the early minutes of the second quarter and led 18-11. But the Lakers fought back to within 20-18 at the half. Early in the third quarter, foul trouble reared its ugly head as the Lions saw three of their starters pick up their third foul before the third quarter was 2 minutes old.
That development helped the Lakers pull even at 22-all on a steal and layup by Jennifer Judge. She was fouled and her added free throw gave Spring Lake a 23-22 lead.
A late surge in the latter stages of the third quarter gave Newaygo a 30-23 lead with eight minutes remaining. Sophomore Isabella Welch gave the Lions a much-needed spark with two baskets, one assist and a rebound.
The teams exchanged baskets in the fourth quarter, but it was the free-throw shooting by the Lions that made the difference. Newaygo made 9-of-10 free throws in the final quarter, 18-of-22 for the game.
Long, one of the top free-throw shooters in state history, made all eight of her attempts from the line and for the season, her success rate is more than 85 percent.
But the Lakers refused to go away. Judge hit her third of a trio of 3-pointers with 13.5 seconds remaining to make it 42-40.
Then Long dribbled 6 seconds off the clock before being fouled and canning two more free throws to seal the victory.
“To just grind it out with a good team like Newaygo, who is sixth in Division 2 and they were there last year so they know what this is about,” Spring Lake coach Rich Hyde said. “This was exciting for our girls. A possession here to there was the difference.
“Peyton Parsons, Meah Bajt, Jennifer Judge, Eryn Bouhuis and Nicole Schmitt ended their playing career. They finished in second place in the OK Blue and have two District Championships in their three year varsity careers. They did Spring Lake birls basketball proud and they will be sorely missed,” said the Laker head coach.
“We really thought we had a chance,” Hyde said.
Long led the Lions with 17 points, followed by Grace Painter with 12 and Emmerson Goodin, whose playing time was limited by fouls, had seven.
Spring Lake (14-9) was led by Judge with 13 points and Nicole Schmitt with 10.