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Spence spices duties with goals, Springfield heads for title game

SPRINGFIELD >> When Springfield faceoff man Andrew Pickett went down with a season-ending knee injury a month ago, Jack Spence knew he would be called upon.

A FOGO in his youth days, the sophomore Springfield midfielder understood what was expected, knew that he wouldn’t be replacing one of the league’s elite draw-takers but rather filling the void of yet another capable cog in Springfield’s team aspect.

Springfield’s midfielder Kyle Long, left, tries to run out of the check of Radnor defenseman Cole Schwartz. Long scored twice and dished three assists in a 12-9 Springfield win in the District 1 Class 3A semifinals. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

What might be less expected is that for all the energy expended at the X, Spence has managed to still turn up the offense.

Spence recorded a hat trick, his fourth multi-goal game in the last seven outings, to vault top-seeded Springfield into another district final via a 12-9 win over No. 5 Radnor Tuesday.

The Cougars (17-3) will take on No. 2 seed West Chester Henderson Thursday for the District 1 Class 2A title at a site and time to be determined. Henderson downed No. 3 Strath Haven, 9-6, in the other semi, and the Panthers will tangle with Radnor (13-8) in a win-or-go-home battle for the district’s third and final PIAA Tournament berth.

Spence didn’t exactly light it up at the X, winning four of 11 draws while defenseman Pat Clemens went 3-for-13. But they did enough, funneling a sizeable number of Chris Austen’s wins (16 on 22 draws) backward to neutralize the threat of possession.

PHOTO GALLERY: Radnor vs. Springfield

“It’s really just a team effort out there with the wings,” Spence said. “It’s a three-man unit. … It’s tiring, of course. But we have more than three guys. We’ve got a full bench ready to go in at all times, so we’re always ready.”

“Pickett went down, it sucks but we’ve got guys stepping up,” Kyle Long said. “We’ve just got to keep finding ways to keep competing on the faceoffs. We’re a three-man unit, and I think that guy is pretty good, he’s one of the better guys in the Central League and we figured out a way to win a few and keep going forward.”

That same mentality spread elsewhere. When defensive midfielder Matt Ries — who scored for a third time in four games in the first quarter — rolled an ankle, star attackman Long dropped back to a more defensive role, occupying Ries’ spot on the wing.

Long found time to dish three assists and score a pair of goals, but the defensive duties played as large a role as any in helping the Cougars protect a 4-1 lead after one quarter.

“We knew he’s tough, he’s going to get back in the game, but for a few possessions, somebody has to step up and play defense,” Long said. “We have Mike Vent moved up to our No. 1 short-stick d-middie and I replaced as the two, and we went from there.”

That choice stabilized the middle of the field in a back-and-forth encounter. Despite being doubled up at half, 8-4, the Raiders didn’t shrink. Goals by Westy McLaughlin and Kyler Albany cleaved the deficit in half five minutes in.

Springfield’s James Spence makes a save Tuesday during the District 1 Class 2A semifinals. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“Towards the second half of the season, and really after we turned the page after (Springfield) kind of stomped us midway through the season, it was that we’ve got to be more resilient,” senior Clayton Proctor said. “Especially in the second half that if we get down a couple of goals, we’ve got to fight back, never lose hope and keep fighting to tie that game up.”

Spence supplied the answer, scoring at 7:28 of the third off a feed from Mike Tulskie for his second goal of the game.
Proctor replied in transition 10 seconds later, but Long helped the Cougars control the rest of the frame, dishing to Joey DeBernardi from behind the cage for a tap-in on the doorstep, then finishing a sweep through traffic to deposit a goal with 18 ticks left in the third.

McLaughlin and Albany (three goals) again winnowed the deficit to two midway through the third, but Spence closed the door with 3:51 to play, a superb solo effort.

Ben Garcia added two goals, and DeBernardi registered a hat trick for the Cougars, who got eight saves from James Spence in goal.

Proctor set up three goals and scored twice, while Phil Regan and Drew Brown each paired a goal with an assist. Tucker Ballbach turned aside 10 shots.

For a third straight year, Springfield will play for a championship. The reigning state title-holders and 2015 District 1 champs can add another auspicious accolade to their trophy cabinets.

“It’s just another opportunity to get better and compete for another district championship,” Long said. “This is one of our three goals every year — Central League, district and state championship, and that’s the destination we have. And it’s a chance to get better every day, and that’s another chance that we have on Thursday.”

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