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Without injured star, Springfield gets a-Long just fine

Springfield’s Dana Carlson fires a shot past Conestoga defender Amelia Kienzle, left, and goalie Christin Ealer for one of her five goals in the Cougars’ 11-10 District 1 Class 3A playoff victory over the Pioneers Thursday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

RADNOR >> Alyssa Long opened up to chase a groundball in the first minute of play Thursday afternoon, then pulled up in pain at midfield. Her Springfield teammates knew then — as the star midfielder who’d missed the better part of the last month with a hamstring strain and was only cleared for a return to action this week, hobbled off the field in tears — that they’d have to tackle the challenge of Conestoga in the second round of the District 1 Class 3A tournament without her.

“It’s hard because she’s such a big part of our midfield, taking the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end,” teammate Dana Carlson said. “We had to kind of adjust to it. It was hard seeing her walk off.”

Springfield’s Belle Mastropietro, left, drives on Conestoga’s Julia Littlewood in the second half of their District 1 Class 3A second-round game Thursday. Springfield came from behind to prevail 11-10 at Cabrini University Thursday behind two goals and an assist from Mastropietro. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

As if to prove just how difficult it would be, the second-seeded Cougars took most of the first half to sort out the rotation without the dynamic Long, spotting Conestoga a three-goal lead in the process. Along the way, though, they summoned the resolve to flourish without her, then hang on as the 18th-seeded Pioneers (a staggering indictment of the district’s seeding system if ever one there was) gave them their best shot late.

Carlson scored four goals, and Erin Gormley picked up much of the slack for her fellow sophomore Long in midfield to key an 11-10 win for the Cougars in a battle of Central League elites at Cabrini University.

Springfield (16-3) advances to the quarterfinals to take on No. 7 seed Downingtown East, a 13-6 winner over Central Bucks East Thursday. Conestoga (12-8), which had beaten Springfield 13-11 in their regular-season meeting, sees its season end shy of states.

The response to Long’s exit had to be instantaneous against an opponent as strong as Conestoga, irrespective of the seeding for a team in the state’s toughest league with a daunting nonleague slate. And for a moment it seemed that Springfield found the counterpoint via Gormley. Two and a half minutes into the game, she scooped a groundball near her crease and jetted the length of the field to tie the game at one, momentarily quelling the emotion of Long’s exit.

“We have to think about what we had to do on defense, who we were going to put back there and what midfielder was going to go back there if we were going to do a four-man middie (after Long left),” Gormley said. “We get really nervous when we lose her because she’s a big factor to our team and really contributes to our team a lot. It’s a struggle without her, but we adjust really well and all work together through it.”

Conestoga countered, and by the time Cameron Evitts fired home her second goal of the game with 13:08 until halftime, the Pioneers led 5-2.

“We were all just really pumped up,” Evitts said. “During practice, everything, we were all cheering each other on, giving each other great motivational speeches, pumping each other up before the game and yesterday, we came off a really big win, and it was just motivating to all of us and we were really confident in ourselves as a whole.”

That would be the last goal the Cougars would allow for the next 23:03, as Springfield’s big guns made their presence felt.

PHOTO GALLERY: Conestoga vs. Springfield

Carlson got it started with two first-half goals. Springfield didn’t let the deficit dissuade them from their usual offensive patience, methodically working through sets to find the right attack. Often, that was calling Carlson’s number, her curling runs around the right side of the cage giving Conestoga fits all day. One such rising shot 22 seconds into the second half put the Cougars on level terms.

Carlson isn’t the quickest or longest attacker, but she makes that darting run work with a canny knack for devising the perfect angle to disrupt a goalie’s read.

“I just have to watch the defense and make sure I know what their position is to see if I’m able to do what I usually do,” Carlson said.

Olivia Little and Belle Mastropietro provided two goals and an assist each, all of Mastropietro’s contributions in the second half. She also won seven draws, while Little pocketed four to perpetuate Springfield’s momentum. Mastropietro’s first goal capped a 7-0 run, putting the Cougars up 8-5 with 16:31 left.

Conestoga’s Amelia Kienzle, left, drives against the defense of Springfield’s Julie Schickling Thursday. Kienzle scored twice, but the Pioneers dropped an 11-10 decision in the second round of the District 1 Class 3A tournament. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The defense, marshaled by Emma O’Connor, gave the attack room to operate. Goalie Aidan Gallagher made three saves, two on second-half free position shots, and the Cougars controlled the battle on the ground.

“Definitely in the first half, we noticed that they were beating us in transition,” O’Connor said. “So we thought we had to definitely mark our girls more when they’re coming down the field, make sure we talk more with each other.”

From there, the Cougars were content to trade goals, but Conestoga wasn’t out of fight. Carlson’s fourth extended the lead to four at 11-7 with 8:09 left, but Stoga charged back, aided by four straight DCs. Julia Littlewood, who like Evitts tallied three goals and two assists, got a goal back after two Springfield turnovers. Evitts then scored off a Tessa Kerin feed before finding Littlewood with 2:57 left.

Gormley won the ensuing draw, though Amelia Kienzle (two goals) caused a turnover and Evitts fired a look wide of Gallagher’s cage, covered by the goalie for Gormley to eventually run out the clock under duress.

With the regular-season revenge and the confidence of taking care of business without a key piece, the defending PIAA runner-up Springfield gets to take plenty of momentum into Saturday’s quarterfinals with a states berth on the line.

“We definitely miss Alyssa on the field,” O’Connor said. “But knowing that we can have a great player like Alyssa not be on the field with us makes us feel more confident in our playing and that we don’t have to rely on one person and we can succeed as a team.”

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