NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Not many high school programs churn out a steady stream of defensive midfielders. Hardly a glamour position, it’s often overlooked as a repository of athletes who can run the field, muscle up in the defensive third and not much more. Often, it’s an attacking player trapped on the field that the defense learns to play in spite of.
Springfield, though, isn’t most high school programs. And when they can reliably deploy players like Matt Ries, Jack Spence and Mike Vent to do the two-way duty that makes championship teams tick, it sets them apart.
Tuesday night, in a 10-5 Central League win over Strath Haven that was put to bed by halftime, the two-way dominance was on display.
First up was Vent, who notched a first-half hat trick. He tallied the first two goals of the game and completed his trick at 6:23 of the second quarter, making it 5-0. All three goals were assisted, the product of pristine ball movement from the Cougars, even those not named Kyle Long.
Long set up one, his 71st assist of a sterling junior season, but Spence and Ben Garcia came through with the others on passing play every bit as pinpoint.
“We’re not centered on one guy,” Vent said. “Guys like Ben and Jack really did a good job. They were doing a good job moving it. The only reason I was able to get my goals is because they were moving the ball. The whole game, I think we had really great looks from everybody.”
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) May 9, 2017
Spence scored twice in the first half, staking Springfield (14-3, 9-2) to a 7-2 lead at the half that was well-nigh insurmountable with its consummate control of pace. Spence has added a new wrinkle since a season-ending knee injury to faceoff man Andrew Pickett two weeks ago: Taking draws. He performed admirably, going 6-for-16 against specialist Hunter Mazur (11-for-18). More important was blanking Mazur in the scoring department, the Cougars adeptly neutralizing Haven’s transition push.
And then there’s Ries, the bulldog of a defensive middie and tactician of the bunch, who teamed with Nick Matty to muzzle Haven’s second-leading scorer Will Huestis. Huestis notched a goal in the fourth, but with top shutdown defender Pat Clemens minimizing the threat posed by Jeff Conner (two goals), the effort by Matty and Ries was huge.
“We treat D middies like a pole,” Ries said. “We don’t slide early to them. We don’t do anything different. If you get beat, it’s your fault. You have to play just like if you would have a pole. That’s the mentality we have.”
“Our short sticks really help us in this,” Matty said. “Many teams don’t have two really good short sticks to play D, and when you have that, it’s pretty unstoppable.”
Two James Spence saves then a Tyler Fink rebound. 5-1 Springfield 2:46 left to half. pic.twitter.com/lXXch3EcbC
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) May 9, 2017
Ries also notched his first goal of the season, taking a feed from Clemens in transition.
“I didn’t see the guy coming; I just saw the net,” Ries said. “It was open space, everyone else was covered, they weren’t going to slide to me. So I just took win in. I tried to miss wide, but it didn’t work.”
Long eventually asserted himself on the game with a second-half hat trick, including a goal at the third-quarter buzzer after Matty cleared three-quarters of the way up the field into traffic that Long somehow navigated. Even with leading scorer Mike Tulskie held off the score sheet for the first time all season, Springfield’s offense hummed right along.
Goals from Tyler Fink and Liam Carney were all Strath Haven (12-6, 7-4) had two show from the first half, slow to adapt to Springfield’s rigorous defense.
“I felt like every time I was dodged, they had a second person coming in,” Conner said. “I feel like we weren’t working off-ball, backside, we should’ve set more picks on the other side of the field.”
That frustration stems from the poise Springfield shows. For a group of seniors that has won PIAA and District 1 titles, composure in big games, particularly when holding leads, has become second nature.
“The senior class kind of takes leadership: We take leadership in the box, we make sure we’re running it right and we practice it day-in and day-out, clearing and riding,” Ries said. “That’s what we live off, obviously. … We just rely on our leadership and we know what we’re doing.”
Also in the Central League:
Garnet Valley 9, Radnor 7 >> Matt Moore and Jake Buttermore scored three times each and combined for three assists as the Jaguars (13-4, 10-1) clinched a share of the league title, sharing the crown with Conestoga.
Jake D’Annuzio added two goals, and Jason Rose made 12 saves for the Jags.
Drew Brown led Radnor (10-7, 7-4) with two goals and one assist, and Clayton Proctor added a goal and two helpers.
Haverford 9, Marple Newtown 6 >> Luke McCallion tallied four goals and two assists to keep the Fords (12-5, 8-3) rolling to a sixth straight win. Cole Lukasiewicz added a goal and two assists and Dan Tierney stopped 13 shots for the Fords.
Alex Viola led Marple with two goals and two assists.
In the Inter-Ac League:
Haverford School 13, Germantown Academy 6 >> Johnny Nostrant registered a hat trick, and TJ Malone handed out four assists as the Fords (13-5, 7-2) kept pace atop the league standings. Adam Salvaggio and Pearse Glavin scored twice apiece.
Episcopal Academy 10, Springside Chestnut Hill 7 >> Connor Ringwalt fired home four goals to complement an assist, and CJ McAnally set up three goals to go with his marker as the Churchmen (9-4, 6-3) controlled matters to stay in the title hunt.
In nonleague action:
Archbishop Carroll 11, Devon Prep/Delco Christian 9 >> Adam Ritter paired three goals with three assists, and Max Krieger and Andy Borkowski notched hat tricks for the Patriots.
Dan Poirier scored four goals for DP/DC, while Tim Fitzgerald added three markers.