BENSALEM >> Kyle Long had seen this story before.
A slow start leading to uncoordinated offense and an inability to mount a comeback had been the encompassing theme of Springfield’s season. In tight games, including twice against Penncrest in the regular season, Springfield would fall behind and finally hit its stride, but the gap was already too large to rally.
Long was not about to allow that to happen again.
Behind 16 points and four steals from Long, the Cougars shook off another slow start and picked up the District 1 Class 5A victory over Holy Ghost Prep, 58-42. It was Springfield’s first District 1 victory in two years, when they were previously in Class AAA.
Long hit a layup and three-pointer on back-to-back possessions during the Cougars’ 14-5 second-quarter run, in which they held the Firebirds scoreless for 5:42. Long feels the second quarter has been the point where his team tends to win or lose games and jumped on the opportunity to lead the comeback.
“We’ve had a couple of games where we’ve started out slow but we usually pick things up in the second quarter and our offense really starts picking up after that,” the junior point guard said. “We knew we came out slow so we had to push the pace.”
When Long wasn’t scoring, he was finding teammates, as he did early in the third when he recorded a steal and found guard Kyle Sullivan (eight points) in transition to push Springfield’s lead to 30-16 only 1:22 in.
Sullivan, who hit a three-pointer on the previous possession, was held scoreless in the first half. But Long kept looking for him to shoot his way out of an 0-for-4 start.
“We came out of the locker room and (coach Kevin McCormick) told me, ‘we’re going to look for you to make a shot,’” Sullivan said. “I made the first one then Kyle hit me up with a great pass that led to a second.”
Another long-range shot by Alex DeAngelis went down, one of four in the third quarter for Springfield (14-9), following the two by Sullivan. Another finish in the lane by Long increased the lead to 40-21 at the 3:08 mark.
McCormick doesn’t have any set “plays” but feels having Long initiate the offense makes his job much easier.
“We don’t call them set plays; we call them ‘sequences.’ They just seem to make plays out of it,” McCormick said. “It ensures we don’t have utter mayhem on the floor. Then Kyle Long does such a good job getting us organized.”
Holy Ghost Prep (16-10) got off to a fast start behind senior guard Mike McFadden (eight points) and sophomore forward Ryan Starapoli (six points, five rebounds, two steals). McFadden scored all eight of his points in the opening quarter, and Starapoli tallied four as the Firebirds ran out to 11-8 lead after one.
McFadden was not a factor after hurting his left ankle in the third quarter and the Firebirds trailing by double digits the entire second half.
With the victory, Springfield moves on to the quarterfinals to face Great Valley Friday with a chance to advance to the state playoffs.
Long hopes his team has fixed its Achilles’ heel and shown the type of team it can be in the district playoffs.
“This is a very talented group of guys,” Long said. “They’re very talented and they knew going in, if they play right, they can put themselves in good position in these district playoffs. That was the mentality going in.”