SHILLINGTON >> At no point Saturday in the first 12 minutes of regulation was Springfield coach Tom Lemieux tempted to push the panic button.
The Cougars had dug themselves a four-goal deficit in the blink of an eye. Nothing was going right. They couldn’t pivot from defense to attack, and in the few opportunities they held possession, three turnovers led to three goals for the other team.
As worrisome a start as the Cougars have had, Lemieux was undeterred. He knew his guys would get out of their funk that saw them trailing by four on three separate occasions.
There was never any doubt.
“I just thought we were a little tight early,” Lemieux said. “I thought we hung tough … and managed a good run by them early. We chipped away, we didn’t panic and I thought our kids did a really good of sticking together through a time of adversity. That’s what we talk about all the time — the kind of character and toughness we have.”
The District 1 champion Cougars found a way. They rallied to defeat District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic, 12-9, in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class 2A tournament at Governor Mifflin.
Springfield will face District 12 champion Lansdale Catholic in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Kyle Long and Joe DeBernardi had a big hand in the outcome. Long accounted for a goal and six assists (he has two and 13 in two states games) and DeBernardi netted four goals and one helper.
Long assisted on every one of his buddy’s tallies.
“It’s everything,” DeBernardi said of his and Long’s chemistry. “It’s three years of playing together, hanging out in school, practicing together. We work hard.”
“I trust him with everything. No matter where I throw, he catches and finishes and today he did that,” Long added. “I wouldn’t expect anything else from him. He’s probably the best shooter we have, and he got it done today.”
Long is the engine that drives the Cougars. Anyone with a decent set of eyes can see that, but DeBernardi poses the shooting threat.
“Everyone knows that when Kyle has the ball, if they’re moving, he’s going to see him,” Lemieux said. “There’s nobody better at doing that than Joey. I think this was the best game Joey has played this year. Even with the ball, he had a great look to Ben (Garcia). He played great.”
DeBernardi and Mike Tulskie (two goals) got the Cougars on the scoreboard in the first quarter, cutting a 4-0 deficit in half. Central Catholic recorded the first two tallies of the second period to make it 6-2 and held a 7-3 advantage with seven minutes to play before halftime. Mike Marker and Joe Wolfe were doing most of the damage on attack for the Vikings.
The Cougars, though, netted the final three goals before the half (DeBernardi, Garcia, Jack Spence) to pull within one. Tulskie had the first of two equalizers in the third period.
“They’re playing fast and if we start playing fast with them, we’re probably not going to beat them at their own game,” Long said. “I think we had to play our game, go slow and be patient and that’s what we did. We knew our defense was going to get stops and James Spence was going to make saves. It took us until the second half, but we got it done.”
Long connected with DeBernardi for what proved to be the winning goal, one minute into the final stanza. Jack Spence’s second marker extended the Cougars’ lead, but the Vikings got one back with nine minutes left. So, of course, Long found DeBernardi for a fourth and final time to give Springfield an 11-9 lead.