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Little helps Springfield circle into title game

SPRINGFIELD >> With a bevy of options flanking her, Springfield girls lacrosse didn’t miss a beat in the last two weeks as Olivia Little has been slowed — at least by her lofty standards — by a nagging leg injury.

But Tuesday night, with the most daunting test yet of the postseason materializing at Halderman Field in the form of ninth-seeded Garnet Valley, Little was ready to ease off the precautions to push as hard as she could.

Springfield’s Olivia Little, No. 20, controls the ball ahead of Garnet Valley’s Madi McKee in the first half of Tuesday’s District 1 semifinal at Halderman Field in Springfield. Little had three goals and two assists as the Cougars won 12-8. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“Today I was like, ‘I’m ready to go,’ so they put me back on the circle and I did what I can do,” Little said.

What she did was collect a team-high six draw controls to go with three goals and two assists, all in the second half, as No. 4 Springfield downed the Jaguars, 12-8, in a District 1 Class 3A semifinal.

The Cougars (17-3) will play for the district title Thursday at a site and time to be determined against No. 2 Conestoga, which downed Owen J. Roberts in dramatic fashion, 9-8, in the other semi. Garnet Valley (16-6), which has already qualified for states, travels to OJR for the third-place game.

The first commodity in Little’s impressive slash line was arguably most important: The draw controls. Garnet Valley’s towering Madi McKee, with her 6-foot-1 stature and condor-like reach, is a terror to contend with.

So Springfield coach Keith Broome made an adjustment, shuttling Little to the circle as an option to recover draws. While leg soreness still confines Little, normally a midfielder, to the less defense-intensive attack role, expanding her duties Tuesday to include draws was a pivotal change.

“I was like, ‘this is my time,’” Little said. “Once I started getting a few draws, I really started to feel it. I’m still only playing attack, which I’m OK with.”

The draws settled along an obvious demarcation line. When McKee was able to loft the draw skyward, she invariably corralled, eight times in all. But if Springfield shifted the battle to a lower altitude, the Cougars were much more likely to prevail, thanks in no small part to Little.

The final tally seemed balanced, Springfield winning possession on 12 of 22 trips to the center circle. But by the time Dana Carlson rifled home her fourth goal of the game — on a Little assist, of course — with 12:07 left to make the score 11-4 in the Cougars’ favor, the hosts held an 11-5 edge in draws.

PHOTO GALLERY: Garnet Valley vs. Springfield

“One strategy was to box her out, because she was so tall,” said Springfield’s Bridget Whitaker, who grabbed four draw controls. “A lot of us play basketball, so me, Belle (Mastropietro), who took the draws, we were using our boxout skills to try and get it that way. Her reach is amazing.”

McKee accounted for 80 percent of Garnet’s draw controls, including the first eight. It wasn’t until Madi O’Brien won a battle on the ground with less than two minutes to play that someone else earned the team possession.

“They’re trying new things,” McKee said. “I know this team tries a lot of new things. I do rely on my teammates to get the ball. I think that when it’s on the ground, it’s a 50/50, and I think they did really well with that.”

Springfield leapt out to a 3-0 lead inside of five minutes, but O’Brien’s tally with 2:03 left in the half sent Garnet Valley into the break trailing by just one. The Jaguars erased the deficit 75 ticks into the second half when Riley Delaney fired home a shot.

But Mastropietro replied off a feed from Bailey O’Brien, triggering a deluge of seven straight markers in the next nine minutes. Little contributed three tallies, Carlson added a pair off Little feeds and O’Brien snuck one home.

Springfield defender Alyssa Long tries to outrun Garnet Valley’s Regan Nealon during the Cougars 12-8 win in the District 1 Class 2A semifinals. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“Liv definitely knows when it’s her time,” Whitaker said of Little. “She has the right of way when she has a chance to go. … She definitely knows when to take over, especially when me or Bailey aren’t scoring. She knows that that’s her time.”

Garnet Valley pitched a comeback attempt, but Springfield’s clock control suffocated it. Regan Nealon (two goals, two assists) scored with 5:44 to play before Madi O’Brien and McKee added their second tallies each. Bailey O’Brien’s exclamation point iced it with 38 ticks left, enabling the Cougars to play for a district title.

“This is my first time here, so it’s definitely a humbling experience and I’m really excited for it,” Little said. “Beating Garnet Valley is just amazing, which we love to do every time. The fact that there’s three Central League teams in the final four is just incredible, but beating Garnet Valley, (a team) we love to beat, it’s just awesome.”

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