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Springfield’s ‘family’ of defenders notches historic shutout on way to state final

WORCESTER >> With 11-plus minutes to play in the fourth quarter Tuesday evening, Mike Tulskie and his four goals trudged to the sidelines for the last time. Kyle Long, toting a goal and five helpers in a typically brilliant performance, followed shortly thereafter.

But the last wave to relent from Springfield’s 12-0 smothering of Lansdale Catholic in a laugher of a PIAA Class 2A semifinal at Methacton High School was formed by the boys at the back. For all the dazzling ball movement and pinpoint shots ripped home Tuesday, it’s the defensive effort from which the Cougars’ second straight trip to a state final flows. Quietly, without embellishment, the end-of-game priorities encapsulated that.

“It was the greatest feeling, seeing the goose egg on the board,” senior defenseman Nick Cutuli said.

The District 1 champion Cougars (21-3) gave nothing to the upstart Crusaders in the first shutout in a PIAA tournament game since the sport was first sanctioned in 2009. It books Springfield its second straight state final berth — with West Chester Henderson, the team it edged, 4-3 in the district final — awaiting in Saturday’s final, the third leg of a championship quadruple-header at W.C. East at 2 p.m. Henderson routed Mars, 20-9, in a day of semifinal barnburners.

Nick Cutuli, left, and the rest of the Springfield defense authored a 12-0 shutout of Ryan McDonald and Lansdale Catholic in the PIAA Class 2A semifinal Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Springfield offered no easy passage on a night where it outshot LC, 31-18. On those rare occasions a shot wriggled through, the All-American last line of defense James Spence gobbled up seven saves.

In the process, Springfield posted its first shutout of the season. The difference between allowing one or two goals (which they’ve done three times this year) vs. none was marked in the minds of the “family” of defenders, as Cutuli classifies them. It was particularly so given the uncharacteristic concession of nine in Saturday’s quarterfinal struggle with Allentown Central Catholic, one in which Springfield fell behind 4-0.

“After last game, starting out slow and being in that position where you don’t have any goals (scored) and you need something to build on, coming out strong in this game was all we were focused on,” Cutuli said. “Keeping that zero on the board, our only shutout of the season … it’s a nice feeling.”

Cutuli and fellow defenders Nick Matty, Pat Clemens and Anthony DiVario were the last platoon to exit the field, along with Spence. The story of the defense tracks beyond those five, though, to the defensive middies like Matt Ries, Jamie Bove and a passel of others.

Most of those doing defensive work — like Mike Vent (assist), Jack Spence (two assists) and Ben Garcia (goal, assist) — also received rewards on the other end of the field in an offense that has churned out nine or more goals in eight of nine outings and exactly 12 in four of its last five trips.

Tulskie was the early protagonist Tuesday with a hat trick 56 seconds into the second quarter, playing a huge role in combatting a repeat of the sluggishness that plagued the Cougars Saturday.

“They started off in a zone (defense), so I had some opportunities,” Tulskie said. “My guy was slumping in, and Kyle found me on a couple and I was just feeling good.”

With Long pulling the strings to up his season assist tally to a mind-boggling 105, the attack clicked early and often. Joey DeBernardi added a pair of second-quarter goals, one set up by Long, the other within seconds of a clinical counterattack following a James Spence denial at the other end.

Long capped the half on his own, sneaking the cage and rifling a top-corner shot.

The margin could’ve been more lopsided if not for eight stellar saves from Lansdale’s Bobby Bausman in net.

“They’re a great team,” Bausman said. “Our defense tried our best to stop them as much as we could, but they’re a great team. We’ve seen talent like this before, but big stage, we came out and we didn’t really execute as well as we wished we could.”

Springfield opened up the lead in the third when Long found Garcia and Vent, the latter paired with a Tulskie goal on a two-minute, locked-in penalty for a late hit by a Lansdale player.

Despite Lansdale Catholic owning the draws thanks to Nick Heiler’s 10-for-15 day at the X, Springfield was just as automatic is coaxing turnovers. And the longer the zero persisted on the scoreboard, the more daunting its removal became.

“I think if we could’ve gotten the ball rolling a little bit earlier, it could’ve been a different game today,” Bausman said. “They’re a great team, great defense, fantastic goalie.”

But Springfield made sure that didn’t happen, by going back to the bedrock on which coach Tom Lemieux has centered a mindset fostering two District 1 titles and two PIAA championship berths in three seasons.

“I feel like we made that a point, coming into this game, just getting those nine goals back with keeping that at zero,” Cutuli said. “It was about getting our heads back up and back on track to the championship game.”

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