WEST CHESTER >> The two-time defending PIAA champion Springfield Cougars had an out-of-body experience Thursday night.
It was as if they were watching some other team get rolled and couldn’t do anything to help in a 14-4 loss to Bishop Shanahan in the District 1 championship at J. Oscar Dicks Stadium, home of West Chester Henderson.
The game began innocently enough. Joe DeBernardi gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead after four minutes.
But Shanahan put on a show scoring eight of the next nine goals, much of it off of precision passing. Andrew Smyth tallied two of his six markers in the stretch, and his buddies joined in to turn the contest into a yawner.
One of the Cougars who showed up still was having a tough time believing the game could get so out of hand.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Kyle Long, who assisted on all of the Cougars’ goals. “We just got outplayed in every phase of the game. Shooting, clearing, riding, dodging, faceoffs, any way you go about looking at a lacrosse team, we got outplayed today. You’ve got the bus ride home to feel sorry for yourself, then you’ve got to regroup and get ready for states next week.”
States are the good news for the Cougars (16-3), who begin PIAA play next Tuesday. This wasn’t the end-all game. But it won’t be easy to flush this one out of the system. It’s no fun watching the team that clubbed you get their district championship medals.
The Eagles (18-1) are that good. Their only loss is to Avon Grove, which was the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A tournament and a state title favorite. The Eagles are big, physical, super-skilled and fast. If these teams meet again and the Cougars need a suggestion for the game plan, it would be to put a body on defenseman Connor Whalen, whose stick-checking and aggressiveness is intimidating. Whalen busted a stick during a check, giving his teammates yet another reason to carry on.
“Listen, they’re really good,” Long said. “We’ve got to play really well to beat them and we obviously didn’t do that today. I think that’s probably one of the worst games we’ve played, and that’s on us. And it’s also on them. They did a lot of good things that I think hurt us.”
The Cougars trailed, 8-3, at the intermission. They closed within five goals halfway through the third quarter. Then Shanahan scored the last five goals, Gabriel Goforth netting two of his three tallies.
“Give credit to those guys,” Cougars coach Tom Lemieux said. “They played really well. They’re a good team and they outplayed us. But fortunately for us, our season is not over. We didn’t have our backs up against the wall. Credit to them. Congrats on their district championship, but we’re going to keep fighting.
“This is a resilient group. They want to keep playing together. We’ll be back at it trying to get better and learn from this. You’ve got to learn from losses. We haven’t lost in a long time. So, I’m curious to see how they respond. I’m looking forward to it.”
Long and middie Jack Spence, who scored the second goal for Springfield, don’t think a players-only meeting will help because that’s just not the way the Cougars fly. But they’re all-in for a collective gut check.
“We’re going to have to just come together, wipe that one away,” Spence said. “Keep it in the back of our minds the next time we play them. They came out firing on all cylinders. They played with a lot of tempo. I think we came out a little flat but all credit to them. We have a great coaching staff. They’ll make changes to the game plan. I know our players. All of them are going to come out firing just like (Shanahan) did today. I think it will be a much better matchup next time around.”
If, of course, there is a rematch. Long said that’s the goal. He also recalled the Cougars dealing with adversity on this field in districts a couple years ago. That season ended with a state title.
“We had a loss here against Upper Dublin,” Long said. “You’ve just got to regroup. No one is going to feel sorry for us. Especially after what we’ve done in the past. Everybody’s going to look and say, ‘I want to knock them out again.’ Hopefully we get to see them again but as of right now you’ve just got to go back to work and get ready. It hurts. We haven’t felt like that in a while. And I think it’s never good to lose but hey, we’ll take it now and hopefully we’ll make a run in the states. Hopefully we can just keep it going a little bit longer.”
Exiting the field, Lemieux said hello to a youngster cradling a ball in the basket of a lacrosse stick. Kid says, you’re not smiling. Lemieux says that’s what happens when you lose.
The challenge now isn’t just for the Cougar players, but for the coaching staff and the entire program.
Lemieux smiled when asked if that was exciting. Getting his guys to move on and fight another day is how they’ve won back-to-back state titles.
With the game a dumpster fire in the second half, Lemieux stopped looking at the scoreboard and instead, looked into the souls of the Cougars.
“Just make sure the kids are acting the right way and playing the right way,” Lemieux said. “And I felt for the most part we did. But lacrosse is a weird sport like that. Teams go on runs. How are we going to react to it? That’s what we’ve talked about.
“We’ll see what type of character we have with how we respond to a loss like that. And I’m sure, I know these kids well enough. We’ll be resilient. We’ll be back. We’ve been through a lot with this group so we have a good idea of how they respond.”
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