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O’Brien’s last-minute goal gives Springfield shot at redemption

WEST GOSHEN >> There’s a vague memory of what happened on the Hersheypark Stadium turf four years ago, but it wouldn’t be Springfield’s Class of 2017’s lasting legacy.

As freshmen then, most didn’t even play when the Cougars lost to Garnet Valley in the 2014 state championship game, and those that did came in off the bench. That’s about par for the course for most freshmen, yet three years later, those seniors weren’t satisfied with primarily being bystanders.

Springfield’s Bailey O’Brien, left, tries to maintain possession under heavy pressure from Downingtown East’s Hannah Wurzel (6)and Lilly Baumann (38). O’Brien’s goal with 43 seconds remaining gave the Cougars a 12-11 victory and a berth in Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A championship. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Saturday, they’ll get a chance at redemption. Bailey O’Brien broke a tie with 43.1 seconds left on an 8-meter shot as Springfield upended Downingtown East, 12-11, Tuesday in a PIAA Class 3A semifinal game at West Chester Henderson. Springfield, the District 1 runner-up, will take on District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll. The Patriots toppled District 1 No. 4 Garnet Valley, 13-11, in the other semifinal.

“I think it’s the same team every year because we have the same goal. I don’t know, I’m, like, shaking because this is so exciting,” said Bridget Whitaker, who tallied three times for Springfield. “We miss it. (The 2014 game) was definitely one of the best days of my life. I didn’t start back then, but I did play. The atmosphere was crazy and it’s probably going to be the same.”

It took some doing to get there. O’Brien put Springfield up a goal with 5 minutes, 14 seconds to play, but Downingtown East standout sophomore Livi Lawton’s third goal of the game came on an 8-meter with 2:35 to play to tie the game. Undaunted, Springfield got the ball back and ran the clock down before O’Brien got fouled. She fired a bouncer that found net just under the crossbar.

“We didn’t really have anybody in mind that we wanted to score the goal,” O’Brien said. “Once it got under one minute (to play), we knew that we all had the green light to go and I ended up with it. We focused on shooting at (East goalie Emily Robinson’s) hips or below. I took a bounce shot and it ended up going high.”

Unlike Whitaker, most of Springfield’s current seniors didn’t play in that game in 2014, but it did help to serve as a motivating factor to what it would be like to compete for a state championship. Saturday, the Cougars will look to use that fuel to cap their careers with Springfield’s first state championship. The Cougars were also unsuccessful in 2010 when they ran into the tail end of Radnor’s dynasty.

“We had 12 seniors and 10 of the 12 started, so it was hard for any of us to get a chance, but we were just grateful to be along for the ride,” O’Brien said. “We really learned a lot from those seniors. They taught us most of what we know and any opportunity where you get to watch more lacrosse, especially with the best teammates, is always a good experience.”

Springfield’s Bridget Whitaker peels away from a pair of Downingtown East defenders Tuesday. Whitaker scored three times in a 12-11 win for Springfield. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Downingtown East’s unlikely run as the District 1 No. 6 team nearly kept going after a pair of lopsided wins over out-of-district competition. Christa Somits’ group got three goals and two assists from Lawton and a hat trick from both Tori Barretta and Kira Flynn. Tied at six at halftime, Downingtown East responded to every Springfield strike with one of its own until O’Brien didn’t leave East enough time to respond.

Despite that, there’s a lot to like about Downingtown East’s underclassmen, and this might serve as a precursor of good things to come for them as they chase their first state title game berth since 2011. They changed their identity in the postseason in two different ways: an upset win over No. 1 Central Bucks West in districts and a blowout loss to Garnet Valley in the same tournament.

“I think the C.B. West game put us on a roll and after Garnet Valley, we realized that we had to get our heads in the game,” Lawton said. “It’s tough to lose six really good seniors. They all played their hearts out every game, but the underclassmen really showed that we can do it again next year and even make it to the state final game.”

They can draw parallels to Springfield, and now, Keith Broome’s squad only has one goal: finish the job.

“It’s crazy. It’s so exciting,” added defender Erika Biehl. “We want to make a name for ourselves, so it’s great. It’s going to be amazing. I just hope we pull one out.”

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