By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
UWCHLAN – Springfield’s Tom Lemieux and Downingtown East’s Todd Cliggett are close friends in addition to being rival lacrosse coaches. So when Cliggett told Lemieux that he hoped the bus ride back to Delaware County on Thursday afternoon was going to be a congested mess, it was followed by a laugh and a hug.
Moments earlier, Lemieux’s squad cruised to an 8-3 non-league road victory in a battle between premier teams from the Central and Ches-Mont leagues, respectively. It was the type of matchup you will be seeing next month in the District 1 playoffs, and on this day the defending PIAA state champs exited standing tall.
“This was a great win against a very good team,” Lemieux said. “We have a ton of respect for Downingtown East. I though we competed for four quarters against a quality opponent.”
Springfield has now reeled off six wins in a row since opening the campaign with setbacks to Boy’s Latin of Philadelphia and league rival Conestoga. Up next the Cougars host eastern power Wantagh (N.Y.) on Saturday.
“We always start slow. If there is nothing to fix, then why do they pay us as coaches?” Lemieux laughed.
“We are at the back end of a crazy two-week stretch where we’ve played six hard-fought games. We just have to grind it out for a couple days and then we will have a little time off.”
Thursday’s result was a disappointing one for Downingtown East (6-2 overall), who actually led 2-1 late in the first period, and then managed to score just one more time in the final 38-plus minutes of action. A lot of the credit has to go to the Springfield defense, who limited East to seven total shots on goal.
“(Springfield’s) defense plays as one unit, and we knew we had to shoot smart,” Cliggett pointed out. “Maybe our kids were hesitant to shoot sometimes. We wanted to shoot 12-yards and in and we couldn’t get to that point.
“We just weren’t able to penetrate their defense.”
Midfielder Kyle Long played a critical two-way role for Springfield. The junior was solid on defense and was a dangerous playmaker on the attack with four assists to go along with a late goal.
“We got beat early in the season by two really good teams, but our mindset all along is just to get better,” Long said. “I think we are starting to see that we have a bunch of guys that are going to keep fighting regardless the score.”
It took senior Nick Matty just 12 seconds to open the scoring for Springfield, but East came back with goals from Grant Peden and Jason Reynolds following two long, patient possessions. In the final minute of the first quarter, however, Long’s pass to Mike Vent was a little off but he caught it with his weak hand and scored to knot the score.
“When you have guys who can finish like that, you are really tough to stop,” Long said.
It wound up being the first of six consecutive goals by Springfield. Long added two more assists to teammates Ben Garcia and Michael Tulski for a 4-2 halftime lead, and then Andrew Pickett replicated Matty’s goal by scoring in the first 15 seconds of the third quarter. After Long and Vent connected again, and Garcia notched his second goal, Downingtown East trailed 7-2.
“We got into transition and got a goal from a guy, Andrew Pickett, who rarely scores for us, but he got it done,” Long said. “That was a huge goal. (East) was trying to get back into the game and we get a freebie to start the second half.”
Peden finally ended the scoring drought with his second goal of the day, but it was too little, too late. East actually spent a good portion of the final period trying to kill off penalties.
“We opened the season with some different pieces on defense and we are starting to play together. Sometimes it just takes time,” Lemieux said.
“We always have a great game plan on defense with (assistant) coach (Ryne) Adolph and I think our guys are starting to really buy-in on what we are supposed to do,” Long added.
Afterwards, both coaches stressed the importance of playing quality non-league opponents at this time of the season, but at the same time they downplayed the outcome.
“It’s still a little early. We want to be playing our best in May, but we will take a win like this any day,” Lemieux said.
“It’s April 13th and we are playing to get better for May,” Cliggett added. “Wins and losses don’t matter much right now, we just want to improve every day.
“We hung with them. They took advantage of a couple bounces and when they made mistakes, we didn’t take advantage.”
Springfield (Delco) 8, Downingtown East 3
Springfield 2 2 2 2 – 8
Downingtown East 2 0 0 1 – 3
Springfield goals: Long, Vent 2, Pickett, Tulski, Garcia 2, Matty.
Downingtown East goals: Peden 2, Reynolds.
Goalie saves: Spence (S) 4; Iacovino (DE) 6.