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Long-Garcia connection sparks Springfield after slow start

MIDDLETOWN >> Ben Garcia’s introduction to Kyle Long’s passing ability was unceremonious, to put it mildly.

The two were playing in a club tournament in Maryland last summer and Garcia found himself open while Long had the ball in his stick and looking the other way. As it turns out, Long saw him, but Garcia didn’t know to always expect a pass.

“I was wide-open, but I didn’t think he saw me,” Garcia said. “He had his head turned, and he hit me right in the head with a pass. Ever since then, I know even if he’s not looking, be ready for the pass. Obviously, it’s working.”

It sure was Tuesday night in Springfield’s 12-5 win over Trinity to kick off the PIAA Class 2A tournament at Penncrest. Long set up all three of Garcia’s goals as he cobbled together a one-goal, seven-assist night that pushed him into Springfield’s 300-point club. Long finished the night with 301 career points, which slots him 23 behind 1992 alum Greg Campbell for the all-time school record. At this rate, he might have that by the end of his junior campaign, which would free him up as a senior to put the mark way out of reach.

“It feels great to be in that class at Springfield and it comes with winning,” said Long, an All-Delco who is committed to newly-minted national champion Maryland. “You play more games and it’s more points you can have. We’ve had two great state runs and this year, we’ve got another one going. That’s what it’s all about: Just winning games.”

The Cougars have another shot to do that Saturday when they take on District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic, a 15-1 winner over Lower Dauphin, in the quarterfinals. Springfield won’t be able to start the way it did when it stared down an early 3-0 deficit less than six minutes in.

At halftime, coach Tom Lemieux lit into his group for its first-half complacency. Springfield responded the way a defending state champion brimming with big-game experience might, holding the Shamrocks scoreless in the second half as its offense salted the game away.

Trinity’s Steven Hergenroeder beat up the Cougars for two goals and two assists in the first half, while Jordan Altmeyer added two goals and a helper. A renewed focus kept them quiet in the second round.

“We really did nothing different at all,” said All-American defenseman Pat Clemens, who also scored a goal. “It’s just really effort, body language and a different attitude in the second half.”

That whole attitude included five second-half saves from All-Delco James Spence, who shook off getting scored on via the first three Trinity shots to finish with nine saves.

“I think that just energizes everyone to play better,” Clemens added. “We kind of expect that from James, seeing that it’s James Spence, and we kind of feed off that energy and it makes us play better.”

One of Clemens’ defensive mates, Nick Matty, added the Cougars’ second goal from a long pole to kick off the fourth quarter and ice the game. Mike Tulskie added three goals and an assist.

As Lemieux reminded his team after the game, they won’t be able to start off so poorly Saturday, but Tuesday night, it was more than enough.

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